UGA flips one of FSU’s top football recruits (UPDATED)

UGA has flipped one of the top football recruits from reigning national champions, Florida State.

Michael Barnett, a 4-star defensive end from Dorchester, S.C., made the surprising switch at a signing ceremony on Friday at Woodland High School. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder had been committed to FSU since last June.

“He was committed to Florida State; Everybody else backed off, but Georgia stayed on him,” Woodland coach Mathis Burnette told the AJC. “They went after him and stayed on him. Michael told me Wednesday that he wanted to sign with Georgia instead of FSU because he thought that was a better situation for him. It’s big-time football. He couldn’t make a bad decision with either school.

“For some people in Athens, it’s exciting news. But for some people in Tallahassee, not so much. It was one of those deals where somebody was going to be happy and somebody else was going to be unhappy. Obviously, I’m proud of him. I’m glad he made a decision. It was a big change for everybody. I’m glad that that’s what he and his family really wanted to do, and they did it.”

DE Michael Barnett (247sports)

DE Michael Barnett (247sports)

Barnett is rated as South Carolina’s No. 4 overall prospect for 2015, per the 247sports composite rankings. His primary UGA recruiter is linebackers coach Mike Ekeler.

What were the main reasons behind Barnett’s decision to switch from FSU to UGA?

“I think playing time mattered with (his decision to change),” his coach said. “This is coming from him: He watched Florida State’s game against The Citadel. He looked out there, and he said they didn’t have a lot of young guys out there. They played Mario Edwards about the whole time. It was something he noticed and was concerned about.

“The whole thing with Michael is that he really wants to play early. Then he talked about that Florida State was bringing in 25 more guys this year. Michael is going to graduate early in December, and he wants to play early. Maybe he didn’t think he could play as early at Florida State as he could at Georgia — that’s possible. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s what he thought in his mind.

“And then also, whether this is or true or not, in Michael’s mind, UGA is closer to home than Florida State. I think that is something that he looked at. The extra distance was something that Florida State had to overcome, and they just couldn’t.” (Note: Woodland is 188 miles from UGA and 328 miles from FSU)

How did Florida State take the news? Barnett’s primary recruiter with the Seminoles is assistant Jay Graham.

“They were very classy,” Burnette said. “I talked to Coach Graham last night through text messages. I couldn’t get him the phone, or we couldn’t ever get together on the phone. I’m sure he was talking to Michael. Coach Graham obviously tried to talk Michael out of (the switch), as they should. I think they understand that Michael has to make the best decision for him. They really don’t understand it. I don’t understand every part of it. But who knows what’s going on in the mind of a 17-year-old kid?

“But Florida State has been very classy. They could’ve burned him in this situation, but they didn’t. Nobody really knew (about the switch) until today, but FSU knew last night. Had they wanted to burn Michael, they could’ve done it and they didn’t. That shows what kind of classy program they are. I’ve got nothing but respect for Florida State.”

UGA assistant Mike Ekeler is Barnett's primary recruiter (AJC)

UGA assistant Mike Ekeler is Barnett’s primary recruiter (AJC)

For UGA, Barnett is commit No. 22 for the 2015 recruiting class, which has now risen to No. 2 overall behind Alabama in the nation. He is UGA’s fifth commit this year at defensive end, and fourth at the position that is rated as a 4-star. Last month, UGA flipped Tucker High School’s Jonathan Ledbetter from Alabama to the Bulldogs.

What type of player is UGA getting with Barnett? “He is a high-motor guy,” his coach said. “He’s 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds. And he’s only 17 years old as a senior. He’s a young senior. He doesn’t turn 18 until July. So UGA is getting a young guy who is the meanest kid I’ve ever coached. He’ll tell you that he was a fat kid in middle school, and then he had a growth spurt. He was about 6-foot-3 when I first met him in the eighth grade. So he played like he wasn’t good. That’s what you want: Guys who are good to play like they’re not good.

“He’s the meanest kid I’ve ever been around. He stalks kids. He doesn’t care who you are. He’s coming after you if you have the football in your hand. And he’s just raw. We’re a small high school in South Carolina. He plays both sides of the football and plays around 140 snaps per game. When he gets in college and is able to concentrate on defense, he’s going to be pretty good. I think he’s got a chance to play at the next level. But if not, he will get his degree and move on from there.”

On Friday, Barnett was joined by friends and family at his signing ceremony at Woodland. He signed a financial-aid agreement with UGA – which is different than signing a letter of intent. It’s non-binding for Barnett (he can still change his mind) but binds UGA into reserving a scholarship for him. Most importantly, the signing gives UGA permission to basically have “unlimited contact” with Barnett until he is scheduled to enroll early in college in January.

“We’re not playing tonight, which is one reason why I think he wanted to make his decision this week,” his coach said. “He knew he had to get it out of the way, and he didn’t want it to become a distraction. That was an important part to him. He seems very confident with his decision to switch to UGA. And his mother is very confident in the decision. I think that played a huge role. She’s happy with Georgia, so he’s happy with Georgia. She was OK with Florida State but she was happier with Georgia. That obviously played a role and had something to do with the switch.”

This it the third time that Barnett has committed to a college but his coach think it will likely be his last time. Barnett originally pledged to Virginia Tech last November before switching to FSU this past summer.

“I think it’s over,” his coach said. “I’ve said that two other times, and I’ve been wrong every time. But I think we’re done. Since he signed the papers, I think we’re done. That to me says that it’s over. I think that’s going to be it.

“We know that it’s not binding, but the fact that he went through the act of signing that paper … to him, that pretty much ended it. But we could be talking next week. Who knows? But I think we’re done. The fact that he has his mother’s full support behind Georgia is a big deal. I think that’s why it’s going to be over this time.”

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— By Michael Carvell, AJC’s Recruiting Blog

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