ATHENS -- Jordan Jenkins remembers the call when he told Kirby Smart. Jenkins always thought he would go to Alabama, and he saw himself playing for Smart, the defensive coordinator for the perennial national title contender.
But when it came time to decide last January, the linebacker from Harris County found himself telling Smart he was staying home and going to Georgia.
It was a hard call, because Coach Smart was that cool kind of guy youre friends with, Jenkins said.
It was the same phone call that many key players on both sides have had to make. The two teams that will meet in the Georgia Dome for the SEC championship have not played each other since 2008, but theyve spent much of the past four years clashing on the recruiting trail.
What we try to do in our recruiting is do a really good job in a five-hour radius of our Tuscaloosa area, Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. We obviously want to do a great job in our own state. It just happens that a large part of Georgia where theres a lot of population, a lot of good football players and programs, fall into that sort of circumference.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt was asked if there have been more recruiting battles with Alabama the past few years.
I think there is, Richt said. There certainly has been lately. More so maybe in the last few years.
It was the 2011 recruiting class, or Georgias so-called Dream Team class, which saw a ton of players narrow their choices down to the two schools. Isaiah Crowell was the most high-profile player; when he famously raised the English bulldog at his signing ceremony, the other option could have been an elephant.
Malcolm Mitchell, Georgias star receiver, said his final two was Alabama and Georgia. Mitchell is good friends with Xzavier Dickson, the linebacker from Griffin who picked the Crimson Tide over the Bulldogs.
Cornerback Damian Swann, defensive end Ray Drew and tight end Jay Rome were other key members of the Dream Team class. They all had Alabama in their final two or three.
Alabama cornerback Geno Smith, tailback Kenyon Drake, linebacker Dillon Lee and offensive lineman Brandon Greene all considered Georgia, too. Lees brother, Dallas, is Georgias starting left guard. The Crimson Tide count 18 players on their active roster from the state to their east.
We do have some very good players from Georgia, Saban said. They have a lot of good players from Georgia, too. I think it speaks well of the great high school football they have in Georgia, the good programs they have, how players are developed, how important football is in that state.
When Saban arrived, one of the first Georgia recruits he pursued heavily was offensive lineman Cordy Glenn. Saban lost that one, as Glenn went on to a four-year career at Georgia and is now the Buffalo Bills starting left tackle.
That set the tone for what was to come, said Rusty Mansell, a longtime recruiting analyst who works for Dawgs247.com.
Alabamas interest in Georgia players and success in reaching into the state climbed to another level for another reason: Smart. The former Georgia player and assistant coach is now Alabamas defensive coordinator. His father, Sonny Smart, coached high school football in Georgia. So Smart has a lot of connections.
I think its pretty obvious that when Kirby Smart came to Alabama (six years ago), that the state of Georgia was a key area to them, Mansell said. It seemed like there were more Georgia-Auburn battles leading up to that. But when Kirby Smart arrived, you could tell there would be more Georgia-Alabama battles.
In fact, Alabama now has four assistant coaches whose recruiting area includes Georgia.
This past year, Georgia was able to keep some key players from going to Alabama.
Tailback Keith Marshall had an offer from Alabama, although his final decision came down to Clemson and Georgia. John Theus had an Alabama offer, as well as from basically any program in the Southeast. But Theus committed early to Georgia and stuck with it.
Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons had an Alabama offer, but his decision came down to Georgia and Florida.
Its not gonna change. Its just not, Mansell said. You see Alabama with three or four coaches that have areas in coverage. Thats almost how you recruit your home state.