Recruiting subplot emerges between Georgia, South Carolina

semerson@macon.comOctober 1, 2012 

ATHENS -- There is a high school off an interstate in the low country of South Carolina, called Goose Creek, which this year has one of the top football teams in the country. Its star receiver and defensive back, Tramel Terry, is committed to play at the next level for Georgia.

It’s a recruiting coup in the Palmetto State for the Bulldogs. But, these days, it is also an exception.

Ten years ago, Georgia won the SEC championship with five players from the Palmetto State on its roster. That included tight end Ben Watson, guard Kevin Breedlove, cornerback Tim Jennings and defensive end Robert Geathers, all future NFL players.

This year, Georgia has just two players from South Carolina, and neither are starters.

It used to be that the Bulldogs could regularly raid their neighbors to the north for talent like Richard Seymour, A.J. Green, Prince Miller and others. But lately the Gamecocks have been able to keep that talent home: Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor are the core of the Gamecocks’ talent base, while the Bulldogs pick their spots.

“I don’t see them as much as they did,” said Goose Creek head coach Chuck Reedy, who has coached in the state since 1978. “Now, they basically try to be selective, they only pick a few guys they’re gonna try to recruit and focus on them. Clemson and South Carolina, they don’t miss a beat as far as being in the schools and being at everything. And I don’t see Georgia very much.”

To be fair, it hasn’t hurt Georgia’s own talent base that much. After all, the Bulldogs are unbeaten and ranked No. 5 in the country, relying mostly on in-state talent, but also a couple freshman tailbacks from North Carolina (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) and a quarterback from Florida (Aaron Murray).

But the Gamecocks have evened things up with their rivals to the south, largely through the efforts of in-state talent. It was Lattimore who gashed the Georgia defense in 2010. It was Clowney who had the game-clinching forced fumble by sacking Murray last year.

Steve Spurrier was hired as South Carolina’s head coach in 2005. But he didn’t start winning big there until after he got a key recruit, cornerback Stephon Gilmore from Rock Hill, S.C., in 2009.

Gilmore, an NFL first-round pick this past April, in turn helped recruit Lattimore, who in turn helped lure in Clowney.

Getting Gilmore, a Mr. Football in South Carolina, got the ball rolling for Spurrier, as Georgia head coach Mark Richt pointed out.

“Once he hit one, he hit like two or three in a row,” Richt said. “I think that really made a statement that they were gonna do a good job of keeping their best players in the state. We’ve had a chance to snag a few good ones out of there over the years. South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, states that kind of touch our state. But Georgia’s huge for us. We will probably always have two-thirds of our team from Georgia.”

Nose tackle Kwame Geathers and outside linebacker Dexter Morant are the only scholarship players at Georgia right now. Geathers is the backup, and the injury-plagued Morant has yet to see action.

Terry is set to join the team next year. But he also has family connections to Georgia, and he grew up a Bulldogs fan -- just like Green, another star receiver who grew up in the Charleston area.

Reedy has seen the ebb and flow of recruiting in the Palmetto State for more than 30 years. A former head coach at Baylor from 1990-96, he also worked for 12 years at Clemson and for one at South Carolina.

“During the 1980s, which was a decade of really good success for Clemson and South Carolina, Georgia got nobody out of South Carolina. Zero. Nobody did,” Reedy said.

But then the Tigers and Gamecocks hit down periods, and programs like Georgia capitalized. For two decades, estimates Reedy, about 60 future NFL players from South Carolina played their college ball out of state. Georgia was one of the beneficiaries, getting players like Seymour and Breedlove.

“My opinion has always been that if kids think they can go to Clemson and South Carolina and compete for championships and go to bowl games and things like that, then they will stay at home,” Reedy said. “And Spurrier has convinced them to do that.”

But the trend can always be reversed. A Georgia win on Saturday would help.

Geathers, who also grew up in the low-country area of South Carolina, came to Georgia in large part because of his family. His older brother Robert was a defensive end for the Bulldogs. But another brother, Carlton, went to South Carolina to play basketball.

Next up is Geathers’ nephew, Robert Geathers III, a teenager.

“But he’s hollering ‘Bulldogs’ right now,” Kwame Geathers said.

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