WVU football: Mountaineers sharpen recruiting focus on Georgia
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Since college football's signing day in 2007, the state of Georgia has produced 53 top-100 recruits as ranked by Rivals.com.
Since that signing day, which was the first for West Virginia after a full year of flaunting its Sugar Bowl victory against Georgia, 21 of the players have become Bulldogs.
Forty-six have gone to school in the SEC or ACC while just one has gone to the Big 12.
The Mountaineers are looking to change all of that by digging in and recruiting Georgia with new assistant coaches Lonnie Galloway and Tony Gibson. In only a matter of days between being hired late in January and signing day Feb. 2, they managed to convince two of their three Georgia players to sign with WVU while getting a good look at upcoming classes.
"I think we carry a good name down there and we can be even more successful," said safeties coach Tony Gibson, who was a WVU assistant from 2001-07. "Any time we go to Georgia and start recruiting kids, we say, 'Who's your team? You like Georgia? Well, we beat them in 2006 in their backyard.' We throw that out there at them, among other things."
The Mountaineers have had four Georgia players since 2007, but not much luck with all of them. Two signed and never made it to campus. One didn't play before leaving the team. And one was Bruce Irvin, who floated from the streets of Stone Mountain, Ga., to a California junior college before starring for WVU.
Yet Gibson signed Georgia Military College's Mario Alford and Brandon Golson in the 2013 class and coaches expect Alford to be a factor at receiver and Golson at linebacker in their first season. Former running backs coach Robert Gillespie recruited safety Jeremy Tyler from Martin Luther King High, in Lithonia, Ga.
Rivals.com lists 10 Georgia players in its top 100 for the 2014 class. The Mountaineers are believed to have offered a handful of Georgia prospects, but none in the top 100.
"The other thing to look at for these 2014 kids we're recruiting right now is that our first game is in the Georgia Dome," Gibson said.
"We can tell them, 'We're coming to your town and you can play Alabama right off the bat.' "
Gibson and Galloway will only work Georgia as a secondary area. Galloway, who will oversee operations there, said the Mountaineers will recruit 15 to 20 players within a two-hour drive from the Atlanta airport.
"The recruiting there should be rated up with the best of them," said Galloway, who built and maintained a relationship with Irvin before Irvin went to junior college. "It's a great state with some of the top talent in the country."
New cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell was the defensive coordinator at East Carolina the last three years. The Pirates signed five Georgia players in Mitchell's time.
Yet his fondness with Georgia goes back to when he was an assistant with BYU and the Cougars combed through the state's schools.
"I don't know how many Division I players come out of Georgia, but Georgia Tech and Georgia have been pretty good for a lot of years and they've done it with in-state players," Mitchell said. "Any time you can be in one of those southern states where the weather is good and the population is good and you've got some great coaches at the high school level and guys can go through spring football, you're going to have guys who develop talent."
Georgia has the eighth-largest population. The seven larger states have at least three FBS schools, though California (seven), Texas (12), Florida (seven) and Ohio (eight) have more. Georgia has two FBS schools - or as many as Massachusetts.
"The thing about that Atlanta area is if you look around the SEC and the ACC, they're feeding those programs," Gibson said. "Everyone's got them on their roster."
Since 2007, only seven top-100 players from Georgia have gone to a school outside the SEC and ACC. Southern California signed three and Stanford, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma signed one. A third in-state option arrives this fall when Georgia State joins the FBS.
WVU, which plays Georgia State and its 30 Georgia players Sept. 14, wants to give the state's players someone else to consider.
"Georgia has great skill kids," Gibson said. "I don't think you can say it's just one deal. It's not full of just tailbacks or just quarterbacks. It's got it all. It's got defensive backs. It's got wide receivers. It's got linebackers. It's got kids who can run. It's just got a lot of very skilled kids."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.