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Defending the home turf not easy
Johnson, Richt now Georgias a hotbed for recruiting especially for out-of-state schools
Georgia head coach Mark Richt, left, and Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson chat following the Pigskin Preview in Macon. Both coaches have stocked their signing classes with home-state players but know Georgia is drawing interest from more than just fellow SEC and ACC schools. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

The first notable Football Bowl Subdivision game in Georgia for the 2009 season won’t involve either of the state’s two FBS programs.

Alabama and Virginia Tech will square off at the Georgia Dome on Sept. 5 in the Kickoff Classic — and some coaches welcome the company.

“It’s good for college football, and it’s good for the state in general,” Georgia Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt said. “I think those teams are excited to get into an area that has a high density of great people. The more exposure they have, the better chance they have of generating interest in their program.”

The Hokies have four Georgians on their roster, two from the Atlanta suburbs and another from Oconee County, in the University of Georgia’s backyard. Virginia Tech did not have any Georgians in its 20-member signing class in February. The Tide has 11 players from Georgia on its roster and signed four this year, three coming from the metro Atlanta area.

Virginia Tech has not recruited Georgia heavily in the past while Alabama has — but so have other SEC and ACC teams, such as Auburn, Tennessee, South Carolina, Clemson and Florida State.

“It’s a battle for us as it is, and we’re going to fight like heck to keep our players in the state,” Richt said.

But Georgia has had its own success crossing the border — seven players on the Dogs’ roster are from Florida, including their top signee of 2009, quarterback Aaron Murray. Murray was one of two Sunshine State prep stars — joining wide receiver Rantavious Wooten — to sign with Georgia.

Richt said the Bulldogs are entering Florida to get the best players they can from there but can’t explain why they’ve been so successful there of late.

“I don’t know if it’s we’re getting more interest from those kids. I do think more and more Florida kids are showing interest in Georgia,” he said. “We’re not going to Florida to sign a second-tier guy. In the past, we’ve had a few pop in here and there.”

Seven of Georgia’s 18 February signees came from out of state, and Georgia Tech has begun to reverse a trend by signing more in-state players. Fifteen of the Yellow Jackets’ 22 signees were from Georgia. Twelve of the 20 signees in Paul Johnson’s inaugural class were from out of state. Nine of the 15 in the 2006 signing class were from outside of Georgia, and 13 of the 19 2005 signees were from out of state.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said the Yellow Jackets’ 45-42 win over Georgia in November didn’t have an impact on the 2009 recruiting class.

“I think each school has their own niche and their own thing to sell. There’s enough players in Georgia, there’s enough to go around,” he said.
Richt echoed Johnson’s sentiments that Georgia has long been a recruiting target for neighboring schools — and is drawing interest from across the nation.

“I think things have picked up considerably in our state. A lot more schools around the country, not just the Southeast, are very serious about wanting to recruit the state of Georgia,” he said. “They see there’s about 150 Division I kids coming out of the state every year. There’s a lot of talent out there.”