Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Gators

Georgia football’s rise comes at the expense of Florida, in more ways than one

Georgia has 44 prep coaches who make six figures. That’s attracting top coaches, who are helping innate talent develop more.
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm is part of the state's growth as a football power. (Times, 2018)
Published Aug. 19

When the preseason Associated Press top 25 poll comes out Monday with Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs in the top five, it will be the latest sign of Georgia’s status as a national football power.

Not only for the championship contender in Athens but for a booming Peach State prep scene.

RELATED: Matt Baker’s preseason AP Top 25: Florida Gators in top 10, UCF cracks the list

Georgia has solidified itself behind Florida, Texas and California as the nation’s clear No. 4 state in producing top-tier talent. As that state’s undisputed top Dawg, Smart’s team is the primary beneficiary.

“It's certainly been an impact on our program,” Smart said.

And that impact is coming at the expense of Florida — in more ways than one.

• • •

Georgia’s status as a football hotbed isn’t new. Fran Tarkenton, Herschel Walker and Charlie Ward all played high school ball there.

But the Peach State has ramped up its supply of talent, beyond recent superstars like Deshaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence, Nick Chubb and Roquan Smith.

• Fifteen years ago, Georgia produced 80-100 Division I-A recruits in a class, said Rusty Mansell, a Georgia-based recruiting analyst for 247 Sports. Now that number exceeds 250.

• In 2006, Rivals’ top 250 national recruits included 14 players from Georgia. The state had 27 such players in ’19 with another 27 in this next class.

• In 2017, Georgia high schools produced more NFL draft picks (29) than any other state. Over the last five years, only Florida (165), Texas (137) and California (128) have had more players drafted than Georgia (99).

Former Georgia star running back Nick Chubb is among the recent homegrown talent to play for the Bulldogs. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)

Many factors have played into Georgia’s rise. A booming population (from 6.5 million in 1990 to 10.5 million last year). A high school football participation rate that’s relatively steady compared to the nationwide decline.

And, most importantly, money.

At least 44 Georgia public high school coaches make more than $100,000 a year, according to a report this spring by First Coast News. That’s double the number from three years ago and enough to lure some of the top prep minds in the country to the pressure-packed environment.

“Anytime a job in Georgia comes open, my phone blows up from other states…” Mansell said. “Everybody wants to get into Georgia because of that pay and what they’re able to do with their community and the investments they make.”

That includes coaches from Florida.

At least a dozen of those 44 six-figure coaches came from the Sunshine State, according to First Coast News. XOS Digital’s Dwight Thomas counts almost 250 Florida prep coaches who have defected for Georgia in the two-plus decades he’s been scouting the Southeast.

“We lose more coaches coming to Georgia than anybody,” former Armwood High coach Sean Callahan said.

Callahan should know; he could have been one of them.

Powerhouse Valdosta High was among the Georgia schools who reached out to him after he led the Hawks to Class 4A state titles in 2003-04. Callahan didn’t go — he stayed at Armwood until his 2017 retirement — but said there was “a lot of money on the table.”

Valdosta’s coach earns a $35,753 coaching supplement, according to First Coast News. That’s almost 10 times last year’s head coaching stipend in Hillsborough County ($3,736).

Georgia is also investing more in infrastructure — a handful of high schools have indoor practice facilities — and educator salaries. The average teacher in Georgia made $56,329 during the 2017-18 school year, according to National Education Association. That’s the largest figure in the Southeast and $8,000 more than Florida, where most coaches also balance teaching loads.

Those things don’t create talent on their own, but they attract better coaches. Better coaches mean better coaching, which helps hone a prospect’s natural ability.

That leads to a maxim Mansell remembers hearing from a college coach: Florida players might have more raw speed and athleticism, but Georgia players are generally ready to contribute earlier.

RELATED: Georgia-Florida is the state’s top game in 2019

“Yes, Florida has always had very good talent,” Callahan said, “but you kind of get what you pay for, too.”

• • •

The Bulldogs aren’t the only beneficiary of their state’s increase in talent. Clemson has won two of the last three national titles thanks to Watson and Lawrence.

But the Bulldogs are capitalizing on it as much as anyone, widening the gap between themselves and rival Florida in the process.

Although Smart recruits nationally more than his predecessor (Mark Richt) did, Smart signed 57 homegrown players over his four consecutive top-six recruiting classes. The 89 Georgia natives on the Bulldogs’ roster includes seven preseason all-SEC honorees (including quarterback Jake Fromm and offensive tackle Andrew Thomas) and at least seven other potential starters for the SEC East favorites.

Thanks in part to in-state talent, Georgia's Kirby Smart has beaten Florida each of the last two years, by a combined 54 points. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)

The Bulldogs are cashing in on the state’s rise because they have little internal competition. While Florida, Texas and California all have at least three major programs battling for in-state recruits, Georgia’s only other Power Five team is the rebuilding Georgia Tech. That means a lot of the state’s blossoming prospects dream of wearing red and black.

“Coming from the state of Georgia, I always wanted to play for the Dawgs,” Fromm said.

Fromm embodies the growth of Georgia as a program and football state.

RELATED: Georgia’s Jake Fromm ready to do more for national title contenders

He had innate talent as a top-50 national recruit at Houston County High, about 30 miles south of Macon. He had quality coaches developing that ability to prepare him to start as a true freshman. He turned down offers from Alabama and elsewhere to play for the teams he grew up watching.

And now he and his fellow Georgia-bred teammates are turning their home-state program into a power that can compete with anybody — especially their rival to the south.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Florida's James Houston IV (41) and Umstead Sanders (42) jog through the tunnel before the start of the NCAA college football game against South Carolina Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Columbia, SC. (AP Photo/Mic Smith) MIC SMITH PHOTOGRAPHY LLC  |  AP
    There were two shakeups to Matt Baker’s top five this week, too.
  2. Florida's Kyle Trask throws a pass against South Carolina in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Columbia, SC. Florida defeated South Carolina 38-27. MIC SMITH  |  AP
    The quarterback’s three fourth-quarter touchdowns help UF put the Gamecocks away for good.
  3. Illinois head coach Lovie Smith watches as his team plays against Minnesota on Oct. 5 in Minneapolis. BRUCE KLUCKHOHN  |  AP
    Game-day guide: Plus a look at Penn State-Michigan and a game plan that’s crazy enough to (almost) work for the Vols this weekend.
  4. BYU linebacker Max Tooley (31) tackles USF running back Jordan Cronkrite (2) during the second half of last week's game at Raymond James Stadium. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Game-day guide: And Will Muschamp’s South Carolina tenure looks almost exactly like his time with the Florida Gators.
  5. Florida quarterback Emory Jones (5) throws a pass against Auburn on Oct. 5 in Gainesville. JOHN RAOUX  |  AP
    Kyle Trask and Emory Jones are thriving at Florida, while Willie Taggart is being tight-lipped at Florida State.
  6. Florida Gators running back Lamical Perine runs against Tennessee during the first half of the Sept. 21 football game in Gainesville. JOHN RAOUX  |  AP
    The Pac-12 has some interesting games this weekend. Too bad no one will be able to watch one of them. Plus: Times staff predictions for week 8.
  7. Florida wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) celebrates his touchdown reception with wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland (89) and tight end Kyle Pitts (84) in the first half of an NCAA college football game against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) GERALD HERBERT  |  AP
    Sports Day Tampa Bay: Times college football writer Matt Baker discusses Florida-South Carolina, USF-Navy, FSU-Wake Forest and the conference already out of the College Football Playoff picture.
  8. Florida head coach Dan Mullen prepares to take the field with his players during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) JOHN RAOUX  |  AP
    Some mid-year thoughts on the Florida Gators, FSU Seminoles, USF Bulls, plus some predictions for what happens next.
  9. Auburn quarterback Bo Nix, left, looks for a receiver as he is pressured by Florida linebacker Jonathan Greenard (58) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) JOHN RAOUX  |  AP
    Times staff writer Matt Baker does his midseason review with a look ahead to the biggest story of the season’s second half.
  10. South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski (3) attempts a pass against Kentucky during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina defeated Kentucky 24-7. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford) SEAN RAYFORD  |  AP
    Ryan Hilinski should be “ready to roll” against UF, Will Muschamp said Wednesday.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement