ATLANTA — Paul Johnson made his first big mark in the state with Georgia Tech’s drought-ending win over Georgia to end his first regular season.
Another sign of change under Johnson came Wednesday, when 14 of Georgia Tech’s 21 signees were in-state players.
It was the most in-state signees for Georgia Tech in at least 15 years, according to the school’s records.
Johnson said the high percentage of in-state signees was no accident.
“My philosophy on that is the local guys and the guys in-state are going to win all ties,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to go somewhere else for a special guy who wants Georgia Tech or is a good player. But it makes no sense to me to fly to California to recruit a guy when there are six of them just like him in the city limits.”
Georgia Tech signed Izaan Cross from Flowery Branch High, also the home of another signee, running back Daniel Drummond, and quarterback Jaybo Shaw, who was a top backup as a freshman in 2008.
Johnson signed players from seven states, but the renewed emphasis on Georgia talent was obvious.
“I think the biggest thing on enabling us to get the kids in the state of Georgia compared with years past is we actually had all nine assistants have a part of the state,” said recruiting coordinator Giff Smith.
Smith also headed the recruiting efforts on former coach Chan Gailey’s staff.
“I felt like we did a better job of actually covering the state and being able to pinpoint the guys earlier that kind of did what we wanted to do and fit academically with what we want to go after,” Smith said.
“It helps you cover the state but also gives each coach a piece of the state, to have a part of it and feel like this is your state. In years past we might have had just five guys in the state with a broader area to cover and the guys that aren’t covering the state sometimes lose ties to the state.”
One of Johnson’s notable in-state signees Wednesday was receiver Stephen Hill of Miller Grove High in Lithonia. Hill made a verbal commitment to Georgia Tech before also considering an offer from Georgia.
Johnson said he was not worried about Hill’s commitment on Tuesday.
“We knew what we were getting,” Johnson said. “I felt good about it. I didn’t have any trouble going to sleep last night. ... I felt like I knew (Hill) and the family well enough so that what they were telling me wasn’t going to change.”
Hill (6-4, 190) had 30 catches for 577 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior.
When asked if he considered signing Hill to be a recruiting victory over Georgia, Johnson said, “I consider it a victory that we’ve got Stephen Hill coming to Georgia Tech because I think he’s one of the best players and best athletes in the state of Georgia, so yeah we’re excited about him. I think it’s a great pickup for Georgia Tech.”
Georgia Tech’s 45-42 win over Georgia ended the Bulldogs’ seven-year winning streak in the series.
Johnson’s spread option offense faced many skeptics before the season but showed big-play capability in the 9-4 2008 season.
“I think having a successful season helped us (in recruiting),” Johnson said.
Some other highly ranked recruits in the class include quarterback Jordan Luallen, defensive tackle J.C. Lanier and cornerback Rod Sweeting.
Johnson said he doesn’t worry about national recruiting rankings. Scout.com ranked Georgia Tech’s class No. 31 in the nation, and Rivals.com had the class No. 49.
“I’m not hung up on what Scout says or what Rivals says or trying to get in the top 10 recruiting class,” Johnson said. “If it happens, it happens. I’m not going to lose any sleep over that.”
Georgia Tech signed five linemen. Each of five defensive linemen in the class are from the state of Georgia.
Georgia Tech must find replacements for three 2008 senior starters on the defensive line: Michael Johnson, Darryl Richard and Vance Walker.
Defensive end Emmanuel Dieke of North Clayton High enrolled in Georgia Tech in January and will participate in spring practice.