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Georgia on minds of Arkansas State recruiters

by Mitchell Gladstone | November 19, 2021 at 2:20 a.m.

JONESBORO -- When Director of Player Personnel Matt Wilson started at Arkansas State in December, he took a look at the non-stop flights from Memphis.

It was easy to get to Florida, California, Chicago and the Northeast. Even easier, though? Atlanta.

At less than 90 minutes gate-to-gate, getting from Jonesboro to the Georgia capital was simpler than he'd anticipated. And in recruiting, that matters.

"We kind of know where our sweet spot is," Wilson told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "We knew that if we could find the right kids from Georgia that want to get out of Georgia, we could find them."

As Wilson and Coach Butch Jones continue to assemble their second recruiting class with the Red Wolves, their initial batch of prospects gives an indication of where they'll have their eyes going forward. Last year alone, ASU brought in four freshmen from the Peach State along with a pair of transfers -- John Mincey and Thurman Geathers -- and Jones had plenty of success plucking top prospects such as Josh Dobbs and Marquez Callaway when he was at Tennessee.

"Everything is about relationships and we've recruited the state of Georgia for many, many, many years," Jones said earlier this week. "It's very challenging going there because everybody in America recruits there but I think we have a great product here."

A 2020 analysis by the college football blog Banner Society found that Georgia produced the third-most 4- and 5-star recruits in that year's class, trailing only Florida and Texas. That pattern was similar from 2016-20 -- Georgia produced 9.8% of the nation's blue-chip prospects, putting it fourth behind Florida, Texas and California but well ahead of fifth-place Louisiana at 4.3%.

When Jones led the University of Tennessee, he was bringing those top players to Knoxville.

Now the expectations are different. The Red Wolves aren't trying to compete with SEC programs. But there's still plenty of players to go around in Georgia.

"The talent is really deep, so you're getting into situations where you have these stacked teams that their 12th- and 13th-best players are Division I guys but they're not getting the looks," said Jeremy Johnson, a national recruiting analyst for On3 Sports and a Georgia native. "There are only so many people that can come in here and recruit, so I think Arkansas State is one of the programs benefiting by getting some of the guys that maybe didn't four or five stars."

ASU tight ends coach Andy Kwon -- a Georgia Southern and North Gwinnett High School alum -- takes the lead on recruiting Georgia, but he's got help from linebackers coach Jon Shalala and running backs coach Ryan Aplin.

Together, they brought in defensive linemen Torren Coppage-El, Dennard Flowers and Jalil Muhammad along with offensive lineman Nason Simmons.

Both Flowers and Muhammad graduated from Creekside High School in Fairburn, and it's no more than 90 minutes across the Atlanta area to either Coppage-El's Parkview High School in Lilburn or Simmons's Cherokee High School in Canton.

The fact that all of Jones' Georgia products thus far -- including 2022 verbal commit Trevion Florence, a 6-4, 300-pound offensive tackle from Smyrna, another Atlanta suburb -- are guys in the trenches is not a coincidence either.

"Georgia is just kind of known for linemen," Wilson said. "It's a weird thing. It's just how it always works out."

It's very likely the Red Wolves will add at least a couple more Georgia prospects to their 2022 class, and they may not be on offensive or defensive fronts. The state has produced several top quarterbacks in recent years -- notably Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Brock Vandagriff -- and 247Sports' composite ranking lists cornerback Travis Hunter as the nation's No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2022.

Former coach Blake Anderson didn't stay away from Georgia entirely. He brought in running back Marcel Murray and linebacker Dane Motley -- both Atlanta-area guys -- as well as linebacker CJ Harris and safety Trevian Thomas from the southern part of the state.

But it wasn't a consistent part of Anderson's recruiting patterns. The Red Wolves added just a half-dozen Georgia high school recruits during his final three classes, the most coming when he brought in Murray, current safety Antonio Fletcher and three-star defensive lineman Ryan Taylor.

Only once in Jones' five classes at Tennessee did he not bring in at least three Georgia high school prospects. And last year made clear he'll likely tap into the Peach State again at ASU.

"[Georgia] is one of the foundational states in recruiting," Johnson said. "California and Texas definitely get mentioned and Florida is right up there. [But] I feel that Georgia is now that fourth pillar if it wasn't before."


Saturday’s game

ARKANSAS STATE AT GEORGIA STATE

WHEN 1 p.m. Central on Saturday

WHERE Georgia State Stadium, Atlanta

RECORDS Arkansas State 2-8, 1-5 Sun Belt Conference; Georgia State 5-5, 4-2

TV None


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