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Michael Carvell

Q&A with Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson

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Myles Autry put on the GT hat for ESPN's cameras (AP)

Myles Autry put on the GT hat for ESPN’s cameras (AP)

Georgia Tech finished with its second-largest recruiting class under coach Paul Johnson after signing 21 football recruits last week.

The highlight may have been Norcross High School running back Myles Autry putting on a Yellow Jackets’ baseball cap in front of ESPN cameras last Wednesday.

Georgia Tech addressed immediate needs on the offensive and defensive line, along with in the defensive secondary. The Yellow Jackets finished with the nation’s No. 54 recruiting class, according to the 247sports.com composite rankings.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson did a Q&A about this year’s class:

What did you think when you saw Myles commit on national TV? “We think Myles is a good player, and that he can come in and help us. We have his brother in the program, and got to know his brother really well. Myles has been here a lot. He knows the coaches, and he fits in well with what we do. We have a good relationship with the family, and the mom trusts us. That was good. We’re looking to him being a part of us.”

Another one of your top recruits is Kenderius Whitehead, the defensive end who originally signed with N.C. State out of M.L. King High School. He played this season at Georgia Military junior college. What made you get involved there? “He’s not really a JUCO guy. He’s more of a transfer. He has three years left to play three seasons. If it works out, he will have been at the JUCO for one year. So what happens by rules, if you transfer from one (ACC) school to another, you have to sit two years. By him transferring his hours from N.C. State to GMC, then he could get his AA (associate’s) degree and not have to sit. He’s not the quintessential, true JUCO guy. We have a hard time getting JUCO guys in. We can’t get their hours accepted usually … But we knew about Kenderius. He had been here 100 times while he was in high school … I think he’s explosive and quick, and he’s a good edge rusher. Certainly, he will be able to come here and compete right away for a job.”

Will you now look closely at junior-college players like Georgia Tech did maybe 10 years ago? “No, 10 years ago, there was no APR (academic progress rate). So they didn’t have to have a degree percentage like they do now. In order for us to take junior-college kids, their credits have to be transferrable in. And that makes it really hard to find a major where they will take their credits from junior college. Even if you get them to admissions, most of the time their credits don’t transfer.”

One recruiting analyst said North Gwinnett High School running back C.J. Leggett was Georgia Tech’s best prospect at running back since Jonathan Dwyer? “I hope he’s right. I hope he’s a really good player. We think he is. We think we have some good running backs here now. I think Travis Custis is a good player, too. And there’s a bunch of returning guys who have played a lot.”

With Vad Lee transferring, did quarterback Matthew Jordan of Jackson, Ala., turn into you most important signee because of depth? “We’ve got three quarterbacks on scholarship and Timmy Byerly, who I think is a good player. So that’s about what you would normally have.”

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson (AP)

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson (AP)

Last year, Georgia Tech had a lot of last-minute drama, losing five commitments and adding one within the last week before signing day. This year in the final week, you added two and lost one. Why less drama? “I don’t know. I don’t have any idea. The kid who went to Iowa (defensive back Miles Taylor), that was OK with us. We didn’t care. In fact, I encouraged him to do that. He fed (the media) a bunch of baloney, but that’s usually what happens. He said something about how ‘None of the coaches had contacted him in a long time,’ and this, that or the other. It was ironic how he had been here just the week before on his official visit. (Assistant Joe) Speed talked to him that Thursday before he took his visit to Iowa, and neither him or his dad told (Speed) that he was going on that trip. The kid spun it the way he wanted to spin it, but it didn’t exactly happen that way. But the kid had called me early in the recruiting and said ‘I’m not real sure (about Georgia Tech).’ I told him ‘You ought to take other visits.’ And he goes ‘I just want to take a trip to Iowa, but I don’t want to lose my scholarship.’ I was like, ‘Well, you ought to visit. You ought to take one.’ And he asked if he would lose his scholarship. I said ‘It depends on if somebody else takes it. We’re going to bring other guys in if you’re visiting other places. What you’re telling me is that you’re not committed. It doesn’t mean you lose it if somebody else takes it.’ I’ve gone down this road a hundred times (with this topic). Anyways, so he decided to go visit Iowa after he visited us. We didn’t care.”

What’s your policy of commitments visiting other colleges? “It’s the same as everybody else. It’s the same as Clemson, and pretty much everybody. You recruit other people, and if they commit, they commit. We have that column (in the newspaper) every year. That one is getting a little old.”

That indeed is a beaten-down topic, along with your opinion of the recruiting rankings. I’m trying to stay away from those two topics. “Look it up. The same 15 schools have the same top 10 recruiting classes every year. It is what it is. There might be an outlier once every blue moon. The only three teams that have ever won our division are us, Virginia Tech and Duke. I promise, none of us have the recruiting rankings of Miami, North Carolina and Virginia. So that tells me what it’s worth. Everybody can spin it any way they want, and say ‘Alabama wins the national championship because they have the top recruiting rankings.’ I’m not sure which merits which. They get the best players. They always have. Therefore, they are going to have the highest-ranked recruiting classes. Do you think anybody can really, really, really tell you who the No. 56 offensive guard in the country is? Honestly? I couldn’t tell you who the No. 6 guard in Atlanta is. Now I can tell you who the five best players are, maybe. But once it gets past four or five, then it’s a crapshoot. And sometimes the guys who are the five prospects in Atlanta don’t end up being the five best players in college. Sometimes they do. But the bottom line is that it comes down to how many games you win.”

So what are you saying about Alabama? “They get good players. The recruiting rankings on 5-star guys, they are probably right. My wife could probably pick out who is a 5-star guy. But there’s only so many in the country. But it’s like, Alabama has more 5-stars than the whole Big Ten conference, so they are going to be pretty good. What I’m saying you don’t have to look at recruiting rankings to know that Alabama is pretty good if you watch them play.”

Yes, there are always mixed opinions about the rankings and how they are determined. “Whatever happened with the tight end from Hall County (Hunter Atkinson) that Georgia took late? We were trying to get him to walk on. Before he was going to Cincinnati, I don’t know what his ranking was but I promise you it was probably 2-stars because he wasn’t being recruited. I don’t know what it ended up. Therefore, you’ve got to have good recruiting classes (if the rankings work like that). It is based on numbers. It is based on how many you sign. If somebody in our league signs 32, then they are going to have a higher-ranked class than somebody who signs 21. It doesn’t matter about the quality or whatever; they are going to be ranked higher. I think for the first 10 teams, it might be realistic. But after that, I think it’s a crapshoot. It’s like the best players. You might be able to pick out the best 10 players in the country. But after that? You’re going to pick out the best 300? Yeah, come one. I’ve got a staff of 20 guys, and we couldn’t tell you the best 100 players in Atlanta.  Because once you get by 25, it’s a crapshoot. They are all the same. But that’s just my take on it.” (Note: Atkinson is currently ranked as a 3-star).

What do you think about these out-of-state colleges who make early scholarship offers to Georgia kids that aren’t committable offers? “Everybody has their own way of doing it. It’s hard to tell. There’s a bunch of kids that got dropped in the state this year. They got dropped in the last week or whatever. They don’t have committable offers. So everybody does it differently, I guess. It’s a game. You play a game. The kid wants to see how many offers they can get. They kind of know of know whether or not they have committable offer. If you’re a kid, you try to commit and they tell you ‘No,’ then you’re not real smart if you can’t figure that out.”

What is your preferred method of extending early scholarship offers to kids? “We do it the same way as others. We go out and we offer kids early who we think are good players and that fit. We tell them ‘We are going to take X amount of defensive backs and when we get three, we are going to be finished.’ The first three that commit who we offer, that’s who we take, unless it falls through. There’s always going to be a guy or two who you are going to wait until the end on because they good enough so you can wait until the end. But you can’t take the whole class that way. So if you’re going to take five offensive linemen, you might offer more than five. But as soon as the first five commit, then you shut it down unless something happens — you lose somebody or whatever. That’s just the way it kind of works. You might hold one or two at the end for 3-4 guys you have waiting.”

Do you make more offers based on camp performance or scouting them at their high schools?  “Some kids we offer from camp, and some we offer from scouting them. It’s some of both. A lot of kids will say that they have offers, and we don’t know who they are. It’s easy for kids say they’ve got an offer from whomever and because of the NCAA rules, no one can refute what they say. I’m sure it happens a lot.”

What is the hardest position to evaluate for a high school prospect? “Probably the hardest guys to evaluate are defensive backs unless you get them into camp. You can’t tell off tape sometimes. It’s hard to see the transition, you don’t know who they are playing against, and a lot of things. Recruiting has changed so much. Most everybody you recruit now, you’ve had in your camp at some point.”

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Got an item? mcarvell@ajc.com

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– By Michael Carvell, AJC’s Recruiting Blog

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