Welcome to Georgia, where football means more

In 2017, Georgia high schools produced 33 blue chip football recruits compared to the 35 by California, which is more than twice as populated. Photo by Jerell Rushin | The Signal

When it comes to football, not many places do it quite like the state of Georgia. From the little tykes to the big leagues, the athletes here are superior to those found in other states.

Georgia’s population is around 10 million, which ranks 10th in the country. Despite being dwarfed by Texas and California,Georgia produces a high number of college athletes for its size. According to SB Nation, from 2013 to 2017 Georgia produced 141 “elite” blue chip prospects which makes up for about 8.5 percent of elite prospects in the country.

In 2017, Georgia produced 33 blue chip recruits, and California, which is more than double the size of Georgia, produced 35.

So what is it about Georgia and high school football that lends this success? Two words: coaching and resources.

“There are good high school coaches in the state,” Georgia State football recruiting coordinator Rusty Knight said. “There are good high school players in the state. Conversely, they’re getting coached better, so they’re a little better product than what gets put out there in other states. There’s no question.”

Access to high-level coaching and resources are leading to better players, but another area that’s helping out Georgia athletes is their quick development. Players begin training and playing at a very early age in comparison to 20 years ago.

Trainer and East Metro Steelers football coach Derek Benson works with players beginning at the age of seven. Because of this, he’s able to see the kids’ development firsthand.

“The development of the kids is a lot faster now than when I played,” Benson said. “I have kids who I train in the eighth grade that are able to bench press 200 pounds and squat over 300 pounds. So everyone is a lot more conscious of the process now, and it’s helping their development move along faster.”

Benson once played football at Eastern Michigan and has worked with young athletes in many states, but what he’s seen in the state of Georgia is unmatched.

“The work ethic of the players that I’ve worked with is what separates them from the rest,” Benson said. “I have kids who practice five days a week and train five days a week. The work that’s put in behind the scenes is a lot more than I’ve seen in other states. Most of kids that I see just want it more than everyone else.”

Additionally, most young athletes in Georgia play two sports, which is what coaches prefer when recruiting. Players who can do more are highly valued because of their versatile skill sets.

“Coaches likes athletes who run track, or that play multiple sports, but preferably track because it helps gives them an idea of how athletic you are,” Benson said.

High school football sideline reporter Brandon Joseph has been reporting on high school football for five years now, but he has seen Georgia players dominate on the field more than their contemporaries in other states.

“I think Georgia is the best, and if they’re not the best they are second best, probably to Texas,” Joseph said.

The competition levels still vary within the state. Teams in south Georgia are oftentimes better than the schools in Atlanta because of differences in mentality. A lot of the players who live south of Macon, Georgia play with more of a chip on their shoulder because playing good football is a way of making it out of their hometowns. They’re also more technically sound in most areas of the game.

“Their players in the southern part of the state are a lot more football savvy. They take on the game different,” Benson said.

They may differ in terms of skill level, but regardless, each region in Georgia has talented players, and it gives home schools like Georgia State, Georgia, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State a recruiting advantage. With riches of talent in these schools’ backyards, their recruiters don’t feel pressured to leave the state and can instead field the majority of their teams with players just hours away.

“It doesn’t matter what state you’re in, you always want to try and do the best you can in your home state,” Knight said. “Of course we’re going to focus first on recruiting the state of Georgia. We’re going to do the best job that we possibly can recruiting the state of Georgia as hard as we can and get as many of the best players we feel like fill out needs. But that doesn’t mean if there’s a better player in another state then we won’t take him.”

For a lot of players, there is a sense of pride to stay home and play at a university like Georgia because their parents went there and they want to carry on the family legacy.

But there’s a bit of a twist now because every game can be streamed via the internet. That adds another obstacle to the list that schools in Georgia have to battle. Coaches from out-of-state schools such as Clemson have been able to successfully recruit Georgia-grown players because their brand is more visible and enticing to athletes.

“One thing that you see that’s becoming a little bit of a growing trend is a lot of guys are going out of state to go play college football because they want to get the full college experience and be gone away from home,” Knight said. “And that’s happening all across the country, it really is.”

There is no doubt that Georgia produces some of the best college talents, but those same players are making it in the NFL. In 2016, 97 NFL players were from Georgia, and that’s an increase from earlier numbers. With the recent additions of stars like Alvin Kamara, Deshaun Watson and others, Georgia’s national football influence is certainly growing.

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