UGA gets chance to make final impression on top South Carolina recruit

UGA will get the last chance to make an impression on one of South Carolina’s top football recruits before this February’s signing day.

Arden Key, a 4-star defensive end from Hapeville Charter high school, has set up an official visit to the UGA for Jan. 30. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior has been committed to South Carolina since last June.

4-star DE Arden Key (

4-star DE Arden Key (

“UGA has actively recruited Arden, just like everybody else,” Hapeville Charter coach Winston Gordon told the AJC on Monday. “I told him to go ahead and start putting five official visits together so we wouldn’t have to keep entertaining questions in reference to it. So he said that he started working on it last week, and that UGA was Jan. 30.

“Subsequently, we’ll start putting other official visits in place – South Carolina, LSU, Miami and maybe Ole Miss.”

UGA is chasing hard after a few high-profile defensive ends with its remaining scholarship spots in 2015 class, including D’Andre Walker of Langston Hughes High School and Virginia’s Josh Sweat, the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect. But Key is a top target of the Bulldogs, according to his coach.

“What (UGA recruiting coordinator) Bryan McClendon told me was that Arden Key is definitely a priority for UGA – and that he’s going to actively recruit him until he can’t recruit him any more,” Gordon said.

What is UGA’s attraction to Key? “They like his range,” Gordon said. “They said he could come there and play similar to how they’re utilizing Lorenzo Carter. He’ll play some outside linebacker rather than playing down all the time at defensive end. He would do some pass coverage, and some rush-type of end. UGA runs a 3-4 scheme, so he would be at outside linebacker for them.”

If UGA is to land Key, the Bulldogs will have to beat out his lengthy but whirlwind relationship with South Carolina. Key first committed to the Gamecocks the summer before his junior season but backed off his pledge a few months later because he felt like he rushed things. He committed for a second time last June.

Where do things stand now between Key and South Carolina? “He told me that South Carolina is still his top school,” Gordon said. “But he’s going to definitely going to entertain and talk to other coaches to see what they have to offer. He’s just like any other kid – he’s enjoying his recruitment period and he’s trying to make the best decision for him and his family.”

Talent has never been an issue with Key, who is rated as the state’s No. 11 overall prospect. Key transferred from M.L. King to Hapeville Charter, in part, to focus on his academics. Key still hasn’t met NCAA requirements but his coach feels like he’s on his way there.

“He’s not quite there yet,” Gordon said. “He was going to take the SAT on Nov. 8. But he’s trying to get some more SAT prep in, so we’re going to push it back to December. But his GPA has definitely come up.”

LSU assistant Brick Haley attended Hapeville Charter’s game last Friday. A few weeks ago, Miami watched Key register seven sacks in one game against Wesleyan. Key has around 15 sacks for the season, even though he missed one game due to violating team rules.

“I benched him one game for academics,” Gordon said. “His GPA dropped in a couple of classes. That’s non-negotiable with me and my team rules … That’s part of the agreement that we have with him and his parents. You either do it our way, or you get to sit on the bench.”

Hapeville closes out the regular season this Thursday. Key and his coach will leave the next day for an unofficial visit to LSU for the Alabama game. The Crimson Tide aren’t really in the Key sweepstakes but they did offer an eye-opening evaluation of Key at camp last year.

Nick Saban told me that Arden was the prototypical outside linebacker for a 3-4 defense that could play football for a long time,” Gordon said.

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