Feb. 2, 2017
Jon Cooper | The Good Word
National Signing Day has become a day of celebration around college football, when schools can trumpet their newest crop of 18-year-old, X-star talent that will leave fans licking their chops about what’s to come. Georgia Tech fans were feeling it Wednesday morning, packing the Rice Center museum area for a viewing party beginning at 8:30 a.m. to see how they did.
“All in all, I’m really pleased,” said Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson at a post-show press conference, adding is his classic deadpan, “We’ll know in three years how good they are.”
There’ll be a lot to track in that time, as Tech pulled in quite a haul, a Johnson-era record 24 total commitments — 12 on defense, 10 on offense side and two big ones on special teams, a kicker and a punter.
“I’m really proud of our coaching staff,” Johnson said. “I thought we were able to address some needs. It’s a little heavier probably on defense than offense, which is where we had a few more openings, but all-in-all, I think it’s a well-rounded class.
“I’m really excited about the athleticism in this class,” he added. “We’ve got a lot of guys with length that can run, that can do some things. It will be exciting to watch them mature and see where they actually end up playing.”
“I think that we addressed our needs and we hit on them,” agreed defensive coordinator Ted Roof. “The proof’s still in the pudding but I’m excited about what each one of them brings to the table and collectively what they bring to our group. Along with being the right fits.”
While much of the offseason focus for pundits has been solely on the players that chose to leave Georgia Tech since the end of the regular season, the Jackets benefited from the departures on Signing Day because it gave them more slots to fill with incoming talent.
“I think that attrition, we haven’t had very much of it here since my first year or two [at GT]. Sometimes it can be a positive thing,” said Johnson, who came one signee short of reaching his max goal of 25 commitments. “Everybody’s an individual and they all have their reasons for leaving. There’s no hard feelings or ill will towards any of those guys. They have to make the decision they feel like is best for them. I released them to wherever they wanted to go. Hopefully, they’ll find their niche and fit in and have good careers and get their degrees.”
The Jackets believe they found their niche on the recruiting trail, although in some cases, an exact fit is still to be determined. Johnson pointed to guys like Tariq Carpenter, a 6-2, 188-pound DB/WR/KR from Long County High School, in Ludowici, Ga., Kaleb Oliver, a 6-4, 198-pound defender (DB/LB), from Oakland High School in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Avery Showell, a 6-1, 192-pound WR/DB from Cartersville High School in Cartersville, Ga., who he feels have the kind of versatility that could lead to multiple possibilities.
Listed as athletes, that trio will likely will add to the defensive side, which Tech replenished by also adding three linemen, at least three linebackers and at least four defensive backs, despite returning its entire starting secondary in 2017.
“We try to hit target numbers and, quite honestly, when it gets to the point where you get close to your target numbers, then it becomes `best available,'” Johnson said. “We listed guys like Kaleb Oliver, Tariq Carpenter, Avery Showell as `athletes.’ They’re kind of hybrid defensive back/nickel/outside linebacker[s]. It will be our job to find their niche, but they’re all good players. They’re football players and were the best players available. We’re excited about getting guys like that.”
Wide receiver Adonicas Sanders also could be exciting. Johnson sees Sanders, a 6-1, 185-pound, two-sport star (football, basketball) at Fort Dorchester High School in North Charleston, S.C., as a guy that fell through the cracks.
“He might be the most under-recruited kid in the whole class,” said Johnson. “I went to watch him play basketball last week. I just wanted to see his athleticism because I’d seen it on the tape and I was trying to figure out why he wasn’t being recruited harder than he was. When I watched him play, I was sold. Our starting wide receiver out there wasn’t highly recruited, either, Brad Stewart. He ended up coming in and playing as a true freshman and being pretty good. Hopefully, it will be the same thing with Adonicas.”
The Jackets also filled a key vacancy by signing kicker Brenton King, who set Mill Creek High School single-season and career records for field goals and touchbacks.
The latter was especially important to Roof.
“All those kickoffs out of the end zone, that’s huge,” said Roof. “That’s huge for guys to start the ball on a long field as opposed to where they ran it back [for a touchdown] or starting from midfield. He’s got some moxie to him.”
Punter Pressley Harvin III ranked fourth among all punters nationally according to ESPN and 247Sports, was two-time all-state honoree and led South Carolina in punting average his final two years at Sumter High School. At 6-0, 240 pounds, he won’t get pushed around, as he was an all-state thrower in track.
The Jackets also beefed up their depth on the offensive line with four commitments. Johnson noted that their freshman status doesn’t mean they won’t see the field, based on last season when three first-year players — LG Parker Braun, LT Jahaziel Lee and C Kenny Cooper, all put in valuable time as starters.
Johnson also didn’t close the door on incoming QB Tobias Oliver being in the mix to replace Justin Thomas. Oliver, a 6-2, 175-pounder, was a three-year starter that led Northside High School (Warner Robins) to a state championship as a sophomore and the semifinals as a junior, accounting for over 7,000 yards of offense (3,785 pass, 3,218 rushing) during his prep career. He also was a two-time captain in basketball and an honors student.
“Everybody that you asked just raved about the kid, what a competitor he was and what a winner he was,” Johnson said. “I’m sure he thinks he’s going to come in here and start and that’s what he ought to think. But all these guys that sign up think they’re going to come in here and start. So that’s a good attitude to have.”
The good attitude was a common component to each of the recruits.
“We’ve got such a great locker room. That’s part of the reason why we went on that run at the end of last year that we did,” said Roof. “To be able to continue to add people like that, not just players, but people and leaders like that to our locker room, that’s huge. Of course, you won’t really know until they get here and you see how they work, how they prepare, how they interact with their teammates, but I’m excited about who we were able to bring and add to our locker room because if your locker room’s right, you’re hard to beat. If your locker room’s not right, it’s hard to win.”
There also was a family element to the incoming class.
Roof’s son, T.D., a 5-11, 205-pound linebacker out of Buford High School, already knows about Georgia Tech and will get an opportunity to continue the legacy that his dad started as an all-conference LB for the Yellow Jackets in the 1980s.
“That was really different, recruiting my own son,” said Ted, a Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Famer who starred on the gridiron for the Jackets from 1982-85. “There are things that come with this that make it great and there are going to be some things that come with it … he’s going to have to go through some things that other kids won’t have to because he’s my son. So there’s some fun from a father that gets to see his son most every day that he’s in college. Most dads don’t get to do that. So from that perspective it’s incredible.
“The flip side is when things don’t go well and he makes mistakes,” he continued. “There will be other things that could be said or whatever about him or people say things about me that he may get that other kids don’t have to deal with. At the end of the day, if you’re a tough guy, you’re a baller, you get respect. If you’re not, you don’t. So that’s something he’s going to have to start from scratch here and earn it and he understands that.”
Also following in their father’s shoes are Tre Swilling, a 6-0, 185-pound DB, and brother Bruce Jordan-Swilling, a 6-1, 209-pound LB, who will try to retrace the trail their father Pat (GT Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 1991) blazed from `82-85, with Roof (their uncles Darrell and Ken, a GT Athletics Hall of Famer, Class of 2001, also are former Yellow Jackets).
“I think it says a lot about what Pat’s experience here at Georgia Tech was as a player,” Johnson said. “I think it was really neat that he and Robin wanted their two boys to experience that, to be here at Tech. With T.D., I watched T.D. play for a couple of years and I told Ted I wanted to recruit him. I’m like, `You have nothing to do with that. I think he’s a good player.’ To have those guys, whose fathers played here, is a good thing. It’s a positive.”
The Georgia Tech life is not for everyone but Johnson is happy for the players who decided it’s for them.
“A place like Georgia Tech is unique in its own way,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a great product to sell but it’s not going to sell to everybody. What you’ve got to do is find the right guys who fit Tech and are interested in what you’re selling. If you’re interested in 100,000 fans and what number you can wear, whether your adidas or Nike, you’re not going to come here. You’ve got to have other aspects of it and I think our staff did a really good job of identifying those guys.”