It’s never too early in football recruiting

At the top of UGA's wish list is 5-star DT Trent Thompson (AJC/Michael Carvell)

UGA was rewarded for being the first college to offer Trent Thompson, who was rated as the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect for 2015 (AJC/Michael Carvell)

In college football recruiting, it’s never too early to get an edge on the competition.

Earlier this month, many of the state’s top high school seniors officially ended their recruiting courtships by signing scholarship papers. Maybe a decade ago, college scouts would take a week off and then focus on juniors.

Those days are long gone. Not only are the colleges already actively chasing hard after juniors, they are also zeroing in on elite sophomores.

Almost a year before the next signing day, more than 20 percent of the state’s top 50 juniors have already made early college decisions.

“I don’t know if ‘crazy’ is the proper word for it, but it has got to be exhausting for colleges to put every ounce of everything they have to get the guys in this year’s class, and then go straight into next year’s class and even the 2017 class,” Central Gwinnett coach Todd Wofford said.

“That’s because you really don’t know what those kids can do at such a young age. Even talking with some of the colleges, sometimes if you see a little bit of potential out of a kid who is a sophomore, they’ll throw out a scholarship offer. It’s one of those ‘non-committable’ offers. But it lets them have a foot in the door if two years later, the kid shows he can actually play.”

It pays to offer early, especially in talent-rich Georgia. Every top program in the country has a recruiting presence in the state, which produces around 200 FBS signees per year.

The main reason that Georgia was able to beat out the competition to sign Trent Thompson earlier this month is because the Bulldogs were the first to offer him a scholarship. Thompson is a defensive tackle from Albany who is rated as the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect for 2015.

“It’s a big deal to be the first to offer,” said Rusty Mansell of 247sports. “You look at Roquan Smith (of Macon County). UCLA offered him first and they would’ve gotten him if the defensive coordinator had stayed there.

“With some kids, (being the first to offer) means more than it does to others. UGA offered Micah Abernathy first, I believe, but they didn’t get him (the Greater Atlanta Christian defensive back signed with Tennessee). But that worked with Trenton Thompson. The bottom line is that an early offer certainly does not hurt your chances.”

Bailey Hockman is only a sophomore at McEachern, but he’s already worn out from the recruiting process. He’s considered to be one of the nation’s top underclassmen at quarterback.

“The younger the kid, the less they are ready to handle it, too. And Bailey is tired of it already,” said his father, McEachern coach Kyle Hockman. “I’m like, ‘Hey Bailey, Coach So-and-So just texted me and he wants you to give him a call.’ He is like, ‘I’m tired. I want to go see my girlfriend.’ He’s still a kid. He’s 16 years old.

“He’s not keeping a journal or counting letters. But they (colleges) are going to keep bugging him, because that’s their job. It’s a great problem, though. Let’s be real: It’s a great problem to have. If anybody complains, I can tell you that it’s a lot better than the alternative.”

Of the state’s top 50 juniors, 14 have already committed to colleges, including receiver Kyle Davis of Archer. He picked South Carolina last summer, before the start of his junior season.

“I remember my first offer like it was yesterday,” Davis said. “It was right after my sophomore season, that January. I was getting help after school with my Spanish class and Miami told me to call. I didn’t expect an offer so soon.”

Davis didn’t plan on making his college decision so soon, but he fell in love with South Carolina after seeing the campus.

“I feel like I made the right decision, but the final decision will be made next year,” he said.

UGA already has five junior commitments for next year’s class, with Creekside offensive lineman Aaron Dowdell pledging the Bulldogs around 10 days ago. Georgia Tech picked up its first recruit for 2016 last week in Buford running back Xavier Gantt.

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