Photo by John Nakano

Tech had 27 high school football players commit to play for the Yellow Jackets Wednesday morning, Feb. 4, making this the largest (and possibly best) recruiting class yet under Coach Paul Johnson.

“I felt like we got a really good class.” said head coach Paul Johnson. “We were able to hit a lot of key positions and get our numbers balanced to a point where I feel good about each position. I couldn’t be happier about how it went”

This year’s class is composed of 14 offensive players and 13 defensive players, with 3 four-star and 24 three-star recruits. Four players were named State Player of the Year in their respective states and classifications (Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Louisiana) and several players chose Tech over powerhouse ACC, SEC, Big 10 and Pac 12 schools.

17 players came from Georgia, five from Florida, two from North Carolina, two from Tennessee and one from Louisiana.

Four of the 27 enrolled early for the spring semester including top rated offensive guard Will Bryan.

The impressive in-state results represent a different focus from last year, when less than half the class came from the Peach State.

“Each year, we’re going to make sure we do a good job in-state.” commented Johnson. “We like to have in-state kids. There are a lot of good football players in the state of Georgia and it was a good year in-state for players overall.”

The success on the recruiting trail provides a nice cherry on top of the fantastic season Tech had in the fall.

The Jackets finished 11-3, beat rivals Virginia Tech, Miami, Clemson and UGA, won the ACC Coastal Divison, barely lost to the then defending national champions Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. They finished the year by running all over formerly No. 1 ranked Mississippi  State to claim its first Orange Bowl victory in 63 years.

“I think if anything, [the season] probably helped keep the class together,” responded Johnson when asked about how in-season success translated to recruiting, “We didn’t have all the negativity and talking about flipping and all that stuff. Anytime there’s a positive environment going on and a positive attitude going around the program, it’s going to help. Winning the in-state game helped, we haven’t won that game a lot and it helped.”

Stability in the coaching staff was also key to this assembling this class, according to Johnson, who cited building “relationships that aren’t built overnight” as a major factor in recruiting.

Highlights of this recruiting class include two-way player A.J. Gray from Washington County High School (Sandersville, GA), who played both safety and quarterback on his way to receiving a whopping 17 different Player of the Year awards from the media.

Florida native Christian Philpott is Tech’s highest rated wide receiver who also returned kicks and was named the 2014 Class 2A Player of the Year in Florida.

Defensive end Anree Saint-Amour from North Gwinett High School is Tech’s top rated defensive lineman.

Victor Alexander is a hard-hitting linebacker from Jacksonville, FL who flipped to Tech from UCLA just days before National Signing Day.

Four-star Jaylend Ratliffe is an electric quarterback from North Carolina. Ratliffe sustained serious head injuries from an unfortunate ATV accident before his senior year, but Coach Johnson says that his rehab is going “amazingly well” and he is expected to enroll at Tech in Jan. 2016. According to Johnson, even if his recovery is delayed, he will “at least make him an assistant quarterbacks coach”, quipped Johnson.

Overall, this class is extremely athletic and provides crucial flexibility when it comes to who can play what position; there are defenders who could find themselves on the offensive side of the ball and vice versa.

Tech’s class is ranked 39th nationally by Rivals which is the highest class Tech has had under Johnson.

Despite the internal optimism about the recruits, Tech’s class is only ranked the seventh best in the ACC.

Rankings mean nothing to Johnson however, who feels very strongly that the ranking system is flawed and biased towards the more nationally-recognized programs.

The numbers, in fact, do back his theory up. An article written by fivethiryeight.com, a top data-analysis blog, revealed that in 2014, Tech was the best program in the nation at outperforming recruiting-based expectations.

On top of that, the Jackets are currently the  5th best in the country at outperforming such expectations since 2005.

Despite losing many crucial players to graduation, the Jackets have retooled their roster in a very convincing manner. The class has 11 potential running backs and wide receivers.

It will be very interesting to see who, if anyone, out of the incoming class can win a starting job for the fall. Even if none are able to, there are sure to be several players out of this class who become important contributors and emerge as leaders both on and off the field.