Although Florida, California and Texas have long been considered the top three recruiting states, Georgia isn't far behind. This year the Peach State might be inching even closer to the big three thanks to an abundance of top defensive line talent.
"Players like that are at a premium," said Chuck Conley, the former coach at Jenkins County High School in Millen, Ga. "I was told something a long time ago, and I believe it to this day: 'You can't win the Kentucky Derby riding a mule. You have to have a thoroughbred.' [Defensive line] is a premium position, and those teams that sign players like that are the ones that win."
By the 2012 national signing day, as many as 50 Georgia defensive linemen could have Division I offers. Last year, 29 defensive linemen from Georgia signed with D-I programs.
"The state has always been loaded, and Georgia is one of the highest D-I signees as far as states go if you measure it compared to the rest of the country," said Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof. "Football is important in Georgia, and the quality of coaches and quality of programs is super. And this is another great year in the state of Georgia, especially on the defensive line. To me, it's the norm in Georgia."
Like last recruiting season in the Peach State, this year is looking spectacular at defensive end. Jordan Jenkins (Hamilton, Ga./Harris County), Leonard Floyd (Eastman, Ga./Dodge County), Jordan Watkins (College Park, Ga./Woodward Academy), Josh Dawson (Tucker, Ga.), James Deloach (Millen, Ga./Jenkins County), Sheldon Rankins (Covington, Ga./Eastside), Kenderius Whitehead (Monroe, Ga./Monroe Area), Dalvin Tomlinson (McDonough, Ga./Henry County)
and Jarontay Jones (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson) all have more than 10 scholarship offers, mostly from BCS conference schools.
Larry Jefferson (College Park, Ga./Banneker), Quayvon Hicks (Blackshear, Ga./Pierce County), Darius English (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern), Josh Manley (Alpharetta, Ga./Milton), Jhaustin Thomas (Decatur, Ga./Columbia), and Stephen Weatherly (Atlanta/North Atlanta) also have multiple BCS offers and could hit double-digits by the end of the May evaluation period.
The quantity of defensive tackles may not be as high as defensive ends, but the quality is superb. Dakota Ball (Lindale, Ga./Pepperell), Pat Gamble (Carrollton, Ga./Central), Carlos Hood (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson), Jafar Mann (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson), Jonathan Taylor (Millen, Ga./Jenkins County), Jordan Washington (Suwanee, Ga./North Gwinnett), Junior Gnonkonde (Lakeland, Ga./Lanier County) and Quinteze Williams (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek) are all outstanding prospects with a truckload of offers. In fact, Ball already has committed to Alabama, Mann and Williams have pledged to the Gators and Gnonkonde has committed to Georgia Tech.
"So many more teams are coming into Atlanta to recruit," Roof said. "Much of that has to do with the population boom. It's easy to get in and out of Atlanta, and everything has branched out to outer areas. Colleges are now seeing what they have been missing over the years."
To a certain extent, Roof is right; Georgia always has had players. But today there are more in the trenches than ever. Stephenson High coach Ron Gartrell believes that he's seeing more big men now than in years past because more are getting the opportunity to play at an earlier age. In the past few years, Pop Warner and little league football programs have lifted a weight ban in metro Atlanta counties like DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett, just to name a few. No longer are there weight limits on the different levels. It used to be that if you weighed too much, you couldn't play. Now, everyone can play.
"Kids seem to be getting bigger and more athletic, and I think a lot of it has to do with the park rules. There used to be a weight limit, so naturally the bigger kids couldn't play football until they reached eighth or ninth grade," Gartrell said. "Now those kids can play at a young age and learn the game, so when they get to high school, they are further advanced than before. You don't have to talk them into coming out and playing football for the first time."
But that's not the only reason for the influx of big defensive linemen.
"Coaches starting recruiting kids off the basketball court for the spread offense. We did that for defensive reasons as well," said Grayson High football coach Mickey Conn. "There are a lot of basketball players that are great athletes that are not getting to 6-7 and 6-8. They know their basketball days are soon coming to an end. They are big and athletic and they make great defensive linemen. The media has played a part as well because much is made of being a great end or tackle. And it's these guys that are more than just hole pluggers. They are athletic and getting in the backfield, getting sacks and getting a lot of attention."
And there's plenty of attention to go around now, as more and more recruiters are heading down to Georgia to look for defensive linemen.
A sneak peek
It's never too soon to look ahead, but one of Georgia's top defensive line prospects for the Class of 2013 is end Robert Nkemdiche (Loganville, Ga./Grayson). Already 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, Nkemdiche has scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn and Georgia.
"First off, Robert has a really good DL coach in Lenny Gregory, who was a great player at BYU," Conn said. "I bring that up first because Robert is so coachable. He's not freelancing out there. As a freshman for us, we basically said, 'See the ball, get the ball.' Robert was so gifted athletically that he did just that. Now he's learning technique, how to play down and distance, fighting off double-teams and just playing within a scheme. Maturity has played a big part."
Between Nkemdiche's freshman and sophomore season, he put on 50 pounds.
"Boy, has he really developed," Conn said. "He doesn't have one shred of fat on him. He's so athletic and he can run like a deer. I haven't timed him this spring, but I bet he runs 4.6 [seconds in the 40-yard dash]. Heck, he may run 4.5. He's that fast. And I am going to play him a little at running back this fall. We did a little last year, and it was like parting the Red Sea when he ran between the tackles. No one wanted to touch him."
To make things even worse for future Grayson opponents, the defensive end opposite Nkemdiche is Zach Barnes Jr. His father played for the San Diego Chargers, and Barnes will be heavily recruited next season. He's also in the Class of 2013.
LSU picks up former teammates
At one time, wide receiver Travin Dural and running back Lamar Louis were teammates at Breaux Bridge (La.) High School. Then last fall, Louis transferred to Teurlings Catholic High School. But the two will be teammates again soon, as they both committed to LSU on Tuesday.
"They are close and real good friends since early childhood," said Breaux Bridge coach Paul Broussard. "I think both of them had an influence on each other's decision for sure."
Dural, 6-1 and 180 pounds, had 32 receptions for 536 yards and nine scores last year as a junior.
"Travin is a good kid characterwise. I mean excellent," Broussard said. "He works hard, has good speed and great hands. Travin runs great routes. Sure, he has work to do, but they got a good one. I think he picked LSU because it's close to home and he loves LSU. He always has."
Louis, 6 feet and 215 pounds, had to sit out last season because of the transfer, but Teurlings Catholic head coach Sonny Charpentier is anxious to see what he can do this fall.
"They are getting an athlete who is explosive," Charpentier said. "He's very strong and runs a 4.5 40. They are projecting him possibly on defense. To me I think he's more of a defensive player, maybe a Will [weakside] linebacker. He hasn't played a down of football for me yet, but I can't wait to see what he can do."
It sounds like Louis committed to the Tigers for many of the same reasons Dural did.
"I think the main reason he committed to LSU is that it's 45 minutes away," Charpentier said. "He grew up in Louisiana, and it's his dream to play at LSU. And they are a very good football program.
LSU now has eight commitments for the class of 2012.
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.