Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson wasn’t originally certain how he’d like the new early signing period. But after the first crack at it, when the Yellow Jackets signed 18 players, he’s a fan – especially after their final signee submitted his paperwork.
“I think it went well. I like it,” Johnson said.
The cherry on top of the class was the addition of four-star quarterback James Graham, of Fitzgerald, who flipped from Virginia Tech to Georgia Tech on Friday morning. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior is a two-way threat and led the Purple Hurricanes to a 4-7 season and a place in the state playoffs.
Georgia Tech came away with potential help on both sides of the ball and, with one exception, landed everyone it expected. Johnson, who puts great stock in holding prospects to their verbal commitments, allows the school to know who is really with them and cuts down on some of the last-minute surprises that occur in the spring signing period. He was the only quarterback landed during the early signing period.
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“It’s easier if you find out today,” he said. “If it happens in the spring, it’s harder to replace them.”
Georgia Tech lost one player on a flip when Julius Weischof, of Germany, changed his mind and signed with Michigan. Weischof was a relative unknown until he committed to Georgia Tech, but that decision seemed to put him on the radar of other programs.
Graham was the fourth four-star player landed by Georgia Tech, joining defensive end T.K. Chimedza, linebacker Justice Dingle and defensive back Jaylon King.
Chimedza (6-3, 300) grew up in Dacula, but played his senior season at the IMG Academy in Florida. His parents are from Zimbabwe and have stressed academics to their son. He will enroll in January and will be eligible to compete in the spring. He could force his way into the conversation to play this fall.
Dingle (6-3, 245) was the No. 2-ranked player in Kentucky and ranked as the nation’s No. 16 inside linebacker by ESPN. The two-time all-state player helped his team win a state championship his junior season and was nominated for the Army All-America game. (Dingle and Peach County’s JaQuez Jackson were the only two linebackers signed.)
King (6-1, 180) was ranked as the No. 5 player from Tennessee and the nation’s No. 22 cornerback by Rivals. He could compete for time in the secondary, which was depleted by graduation.
“We try to address our needs and where they fit in,” Johnson said. “We recruit to our needs.”
King is one of five defensive backs in the group that signed. All five will get a chance to compete, as four of the five starters and two primary backups graduated. The other signees are: Jaylen Jackson of Brunswick, who has three interceptions and a school-record 105-yard interception return his senior year; Charlie Thomas of Thomasville, who had 78 tackles and helped his team post its first unbeaten regular season in 29 years; Juanyeh Thomas of Niceville, Florida, who returned interceptions for touchdowns in five straight games as a sophomore; and Zamari Walton of Melbourne, Florida, the cousin of NFL veteran Reggie Nelson, who had eight interceptions as a senior.
Help was also needed on the defensive line, where Austin Smith of McDonough and Luke Johns of Dalton fit in. Smith (6-4, 295) has played in numerous elite all-star games and helped Ola High make its first state playoff appearance in 2016. Johns had 95 tackles and five sacks as a senior and is an all-state candidate again.
Three big offensive linemen were added to the mix: Harrison Jump (6-5, 260) from Athens’ Price Avenue Christian; Michael Maye of Hoover, Alabama; and Zakk McKeehan (6-4, 285) of St. Francisville, Louisiana. Maye could have a slight advantage since he played in an option offense in high school.
The two A-backs both bring great credentials. Dontae Smith rushed for 4,269 yards and scored 45 touchdowns over his final two seasons at Spring Hill, Texas. Tijai Whatley ran for 4,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in his three seasons at Rome’s Darlington School.
Two wide receivers were signed: Malachi Carter of Lawrenceville’s Mountain View High and Peje Harris of Newnan. Carter caught 130 passes for 2,360 yards and 30 touchdowns over the last two seasons and set a Gwinnett County record with 1,348 yards as a senior, with 19 touchdowns among his 72 catches. Harris had 33 catches for 448 yards his senior season.