LINCOLN — There’s Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Clayton, Rockdale, Hall and of course Fulton. A college football coach can find good players in each of the counties that help make up the greater Atlanta metro area.
“Atlanta has become a hotbed like Miami,” said Nebraska tight ends coach Sean Beckton, who recruits Atlanta for the Huskers.
Beckton found four-star outside linebacker Caleb Tannor at Miller Grove High School in DeKalb County, just east of downtown. Receiver Katerian Legrone comes from Fulton County’s BEST Academy.
But Beckton also knows where to find Georgia’s biggest prospect gold mine. Just as parents from Lithia Springs — that’s in Douglas County, near the airport — know where to rent an apartment so their son can move and play against some of the best high school football players in America.
According to ESPN, it has produced 24 top-100 recruits in the past decade. That’s fourth-most of any county in the nation. It’s home to Loganville Grayson High School — alma mater of current Huskers Mo Barry and Breon Dixon. Nebraska’s handing out offers there like candy because Grayson has seven five- and four-star recruits in the 2019 class, according to the 247Sports composite.
Beckton ticks off the other top programs. Lawrenceville Archer. Buford. Norcross. North Gwinnett, which just won a state title. Beckton is good friends with the coach there.
“The families are moving north to Gwinnett County,” Beckton said. “They can pay their coaches a lot more out there than they do in the inner city, in Fulton County.”
The caliber of coaching, Beckton said, trickles down to the players. And now every major school is recruiting in Gwinnett County. All the ACC and SEC powers. Michigan. Ohio State. Texas. Nebraska, too. Beckton’s connections will help. They already have.
It’s part of Nebraska’s aggressive recruiting strategy in the Southeast — prime SEC and ACC country. Many Husker coaches have a section of Florida. Beckton is responsible for Orlando and north Florida, near Jacksonville, which also produces a high number of prospects.
And NU is committed to recruiting in Alabama, a tough nut for previous Husker staffs to crack. In the 2018 class, Nebraska plucked athlete Cam Taylor — who could play corner, safety, receiver or even quarterback — from Montgomery, Alabama.
Taylor was defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s guy. Chinander will recruit Alabama — along with his home state of Iowa. Prior to Taylor, the last Alabaman to commit to NU was DeAndre Wills, who in 2014 spent roughly a week in Lincoln before becoming homesick and leaving.
Chinander made an uncertain face when a reporter suggested that Alabama is a tough state to recruit. He didn’t buy it. He had success recruiting the area at Central Florida.
“There’s only a certain pool of guys who are good enough for a program like Nebraska, Auburn or Alabama,” Chinander said. “It’s how you have them ranked according to your big board.”
The Florida panhandle is part of Chinander’s recruiting area as well.
Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher will recruit the city of Miami and Dade County.
“There are kids looking to leave the state of Florida and kids looking to be around great staffs,” said Fisher, who will also recruit St. Louis. “There are kids who go to a school and realize they’ve made the wrong decision because coaches they perceived to be a certain way turn out to be different. It’ll be nice to get a couple guys out of there every year.”
Outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt takes the rest of south Florida outside of Miami.
“Essentially Fort Lauderdale to Fort Myers,” Dewitt said, noting both sides of the state. “Broward, Collier, Lee and Palm Beach Counties in Florida.”
Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud will assist in Tampa, farther up the west coast of Florida.
Beckton said Nebraska breaks down its recruiting board into three tiers. NU coaches aren’t afraid to pursue first-tier prospects in the Southeast, even when schools like Georgia, Alabama and Clemson have natural advantages in proximity.
“Go after ’em all,” Beckton said. “And then if Florida, Georgia comes in there and guys commit, you keep an eye on it, but you move on to the next guy. We have a huge list of kids, and we have a pecking order, and if some of those kids commit on the list, we move down.”
But it’s smart to pursue the best possible prospects. A number of Nebraska’s 2018 commits were outside of UCF’s recruiting league, so to speak. But they were inside NU’s league. Taylor for one. Tannor for another. Tannor was committed to Georgia at one point.
“If you’re connected in with the coaches and the staffs, they all kind of talk,” Beckton said. “I had a coach call me and say, ‘Georgia dropped this kid, you need to get back in there.’ So we picked up the phone, we started out work to really get the kid.”
The clincher with Tannor, Beckton said, was a visit Frost made to Tannor’s mom, who worked at a local school. An assembly was about to begin, and Frost — the son of lifelong educators — simply helped set up. That struck Tannor’s mom.
Win the mom, win the kid.
“She just couldn’t believe that,” Beckton said.
More recruiting notes:
» Dewitt will recruit Wisconsin and the city of Minneapolis. He’ll also be responsible for recruiting one junior college, Garden City (Kan.) Community College, because he has a long relationship with Garden City coach Jeff Sims. Dewitt and Sims worked together at Florida Atlantic under former Husker defensive coordinator Carl Pelini.
» Ruud is the point man in Nebraska, and he’ll also handle Colorado, Wyoming and the Dakotas.
» Fisher has St. Louis in part because he played five years for the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.
» Offensive line coach Greg Austin will recruit Houston, where he played high school football.
» Chinander has Hawaii. Frost wanted to keep the state on Nebraska’s recruiting radar. Frost’s two best quarterbacks — Marcus Mariota and McKenzie Milton — come from there. Nebraska has had almost zero success recruiting Hawaii since the late 1990s. Previous coach Mike Riley had two assistants, Mike Cavanaugh and Mark Banker, who knew the state well — Banker is back coaching at Hawaii — but had no luck.
“It’s a deal where I call out there and see if some guys are interested,” Chinander said. “Maybe I’m out there, maybe I’m not.”
The state of Iowa, typically closed to Nebraska outside of a few commits, will be a key focus for Chinander, who grew up in Iowa and walked on for the home-state Hawkeyes. Three-star Waverly-Shell Rock defensive end Mosai Newsom took a campus tour last week.
Not all coordinators are as aggressive in recruiting as Chinander chooses to be.
“This simple fact is, whatever happens on defense, I’m responsible for,” Chinander said. “So I could either let everybody go out and recruit — and they’re going to do a great job, our coaches pull the rope in the same direction — but if we don’t recruit the right guys, or they don’t perform on Saturday, and I don’t agree (with a recruiting decision) and I don’t say anything, it’s my fault. It’s my responsibility. So I want to be very involved.”
» Running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Ryan Held has many of the junior colleges, but he’ll also recruit Kansas City, Dallas-Fort Worth, Kansas, Oklahoma and wherever else Frost wants him.
» Defensive line coach Mike Dawson will recruit “just about everything north and east of Ohio.”
“We’re going to try to drag some of those boys out to the Midwest,” Dawson said. “They’re going to love it. I’ve been recruiting New Jersey since 2000. I’ve been there a long time. The high school coaches in New Jersey have been awesome to me. I have some great relationships and really close friends I’ve built up.”
Dawson said he wasn’t sure if he’d recruit the “DMV” — the Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia region that has become a recruiting focus for many ACC programs.