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Saturday, January 29, 2011 - 8:31am

Final Days Before Signing Day Full of Drama

The biggest day in college football’s offseason is just around the corner. National Signing Day will take center stage Wednesday when high school seniors can sign binding National Letters of Intent.
As always, plenty of the top prospects in the state of Georgia have already made verbal commitments to their schools of choice. However, the drama will not be limited to the recruits who are still uncommitted. Case in point: former Calhoun star Da’Rick Rodgers had given his word to the Georgia Bulldogs, but on National Signing Day in 2010 he gave Mark Richt the cold shoulder and signed with SEC rival Tennessee.
Two of the state’s most highly-touted 2011 recruits have not yet decided as National Signing Day rapidly approaches. Carver-Columbus running back Isaiah Crowell and Thomas County Central defensive end Ray Drew are still weighing their offers—or if they have come to decisions, they are not tipping their hands.
Crowell has narrowed his choices to Auburn, Alabama and Georgia. The Bulldogs appear to be using the same tactics to lure Crowell as Tennessee employed to snag Rogers last year. Rogers flip-flopped to the Vols after they got a commitment from Calhoun quarterback and good friend Nash Nance. Perhaps Richt took notes, because he recently offered a scholarship to Carver-Columbus defensive back Quintavious Harrow, Crowell’s best friend since kindergarten.
“People are going to have their opinions about why Georgia offered Quintavious,” Carver-Columbus head coach Dell McGee told the AJC. “All I know is that he is getting a free education at a great institution along with the opportunity to play football in the best conference in the nation. To me, that’s priceless.”
Landing Crowell would also be priceless for the Bulldogs. He ran for 1,721 yards and 18 touchdowns on 147 carries last season and led Carver-Columbus to the Class AA semifinals. In a quarterfinal win over Thomasville, Crowell erupted for 305 yards and five touchdowns on just 20 rushes.
Crowell has said from the beginning that he will wait until National Signing Day to make his decision. Added McGee: “Isaiah will do what is the best for Isaiah.”
Drew is reportedly considering Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, LSU and Miami (Fla). “It’s going to be very interesting,” said Scott Janovitz, who hosts “The Official Visit” on 790 the Zone. Janovitz spoke with Drew on Monday and is reporting that the Bulldogs are recruiting the five-star prospect as an outside linebacker instead of a defensive end. Janovitz called Georgia’s pitch “a tremendous blunder,” because “Drew wants to play with his hand in the dirt.” In other words, Drew prefers to stay at defensive end and that could spell doom for UGA’s hopes.
One of Crowell’s teammates also remains up for grabs. Georgia is in the mix for Carver-Columbus defensive tackle Gabriel Wright, but Auburn reportedly has the lead ahead of Tennessee.
Chattahoochee scored a series of thrilling playoff wins en route to the Class 4A state championship, and there has already been plenty of offseason drama for a number of Cougars. Wide receiver Kane Whitehurst had not been anywhere on Arkansas’ radar screen, but that all changed when Bobby Petrino came to take a look not at Whitehurst, but at teammate Barron Dixon. While Dixon is headed to Mississippi State, it is Whitehurst who is now set to become a Razorback. Quarterback Timmy Byerly is also garnering late interest from BCS schools. Michigan and Mississippi State have joined the sweepstakes for Byerly, who has offers from Middle Tennessee State and Furman.
Janovitz is most interested in three storylines heading into Wednesday: UGA’s proficiency with in-state recruiting, Tech’s failure to sign local players, and the success of SEC schools such as Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt in diving into the talent-rich pool of Georgia prospects.
Richt has received almost 20 verbal commitments from Georgia products, including Valdosta High School teammates Jay Rome and Malcolm Mitchell. Damian Swann, a do-it-all athlete for Grady who stars at cornerback, is also bound for Athens.
Only 11 in-state prospects have given verbal commitments to Georgia Tech. Head coach Paul Johnson, known for needing very specific types of players for his triple-option offense, has once again placed a significant focus on North Carolina and Alabama. While he is expected to sign Wayne County’s Tre Jackson and Chris Milton of Charlton County, his top two recruits (Vad Lee and Airyn Willis) hail from North Carolina.
“They have really not done a good job recruiting what is the fourth-best state in the country for football talent,” Janovitz said of the Yellow Jackets. “They have either missed on guys they should have offered or they offered and did not recruit hard enough.”
At South Carolina, Steve Spurrier already has the same number of Georgia players—11—verbally committed to take their talents to Columbia. Among Spurrier’s coups are Stephenson safety Kadetrix Marcus, South Gwinnett linebacker Edward Muldrow, McEachern tight end Rory Anderson, and Pepperell offensive guard Kyle Harris.
Several top recruits in the state are headed to other SEC schools. Alabama’s Nick Saban has received commitments from Griffin defensive end Xzavier Dixon and Cook County linebacker Shannon Brown. Derek Dooley is set to welcome Gainesville linebacker A.J. Johnson, Kell defensive back Brian Randolph and Clarke Central offensive lineman Alan Posey to Tennessee. Even Kentucky has thrown itself squarely into the fray. The Wildcats looking forward to signing M.L. King wideout Demarco Robinson, Grady running back Marcus Caffey and Whitewater running back Josh Clemons on Wednesday.
While only a few marquee names remain technically “undecided,” the truth is that nobody’s college destination is set in stone. Rogers waffled last season, and Janovitz says every school should expect at least one or two commits to back out at the last moment. Tennessee benefited with Rogers, but the Vols should be prepared for a taste of their own medicine in 2011. Johnson committed at the beginning of last season, but recent visits to rival SEC schools have put his situation in doubt.
So you think you know where everyone is going? Well, think again. Fasten your seatbelts, because the quest for the 2011 BCS National Championship—and beyond—is about to begin!

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