Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson defended his recruiting class, which was considered the worst in his five years at Tech.
ATLANTA — Scouting services called Georgia Tech’s 14-member recruiting class the worst in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure, which began in 2008.
After four commits recanted and went elsewhere, Tech was left with a class the services rated 11th — in the ACC.
Rivals pegged Tech’s class 84th-best nationally.
“You can take numbers and do anything with them,” Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You know that, right? If you’ve got a class with 14 people, you’re not going to be ranked as high as a class with 21. If you’re a fan of the star system (in recruiting ratings) and you take the average of those, we probably fit where we usually do.”
Tech filled several needs, including at kicker. Harrison Butker of Westminster in Atlanta will compete with returnees David Scully and Justin Moore, who went just 6 of 12 on field goals last season.
“I think the kicker is unquestionably an area we needed help, and he’s one of the best in the country,” Johnson told Reuters.
Running back Travis Custis and lineman Shamire DeVine were the biggest prizes. Devine (6-foot-7, 355 pounds) picked Tech over Georgia, Florida, Florida State, Tennessee, USC and others.
“Not only is he a big guy, he has (quick) feet,” Johnson told Reuters. “He crushed people (in high school). DeVine is special. That distinction makes him an exception in this class.”
Johnson said Wednesday he may sign one or two more players. Cornelius Elder, a running back from Nashville, Tenn., is still considering offers from Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Auburn and UCLA. He also has an offer to play basketball at Purdue.
Four players pulled back on commitments to Georgia Tech late in the recruiting process.
Georgia Tech lost receiver Jumichael Ramos, who played with Custis at Lovejoy. Ramos signed with North Carolina State. The Yellow Jackets also lost running back Brendan Douglas of Aquinas, who signed with Georgia. Also, Hillgrove High defensive back Tolando Cleveland signed with Mississippi State, and Cedar Creek High quarterback Damon Mitchell signed with Arkansas.
Johnson said the players pulled back their commitments when their options expanded.
“Most of them didn’t have another BCS offer when they committed (to Georgia Tech),” Johnson told The AP. “So did they really want to come to school here or were they just kind of taking something to hang onto?”
Johnson said he is always looking for ways to improve his recruiting. He said he won’t be motivated by rankings compiled by others.
He said he has had 13 all-Atlantic Coast Conference players in five years at Georgia Tech. Of those 13, he said five were regarded as two-star players, three had three-star rankings and five were considered four-star recruits.
“So what’s your conclusion?” Johnson asked. “My conclusion is they were all good players, all All-Conference and they came in different ways.
Johnson said he’ll continue to rate players “off our camps and off our tape and how good players they are.”
“We don’t care where they are ranked or what their star system is or whatever,” he said. “If we feel like they’re good players, then we offer them.”
Top of the class
RB Travis Custis (Lovejoy High, Lovejoy): The 5-11, 198-pounder is one of two four-star recruits in the class. Coach Paul Johnson called him possibly the best running back in the state. His mix of power and speed makes Custis a natural fit at B-back.
“I think he was one of the best running backs in the state,” Johnson told The Associated Press.
OL Shamire DeVine (Tri-Cities High, East Point): The 6-7, 355-pounder is the other four-star recruit. He’s expected to play guard. Johnson said DeVine was “ability-wise, as good as any high school junior I had (ever) seen in camp.”
OL Chris Griffin (Wakulla High, Crawfordville, Fla.): The 6-5, 275-pounder heard from “just about every school on the East Coast” as signing day neared, recruiting coordinator Andy McCollum told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Rivals rates Griffin the nation’s 55th-best offensive tackle.
SIGNING CLASS FROM ALL OVER: Tech’s recruiting class includes eight players from Georgia, two from Maryland and Florida, and one from New Jersey and Ohio. There are three defensive linemen, two offensive linemen, two wide receivers, two running backs, two defensive backs, one quarterback, one kicker and one linebacker.
“I think the biggest thing we tried to do is fill some needs. We talked about trying to balance the classes with numbers by positions and that kind of thing,” Johnson said.
Ty Griffin, who was a dual-threat quarterback at McEachern and North Cobb in the Atlanta area, was signed to run Johnson’s spread-option offense.
Georgia Tech signed six defensive players, including two — defensive lineman/linebacker Kevin Robbins and defensive lineman Darius Commissiong — from Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Md.
Johnson told The AP that the “Georgia Tech brand plays very well nationally,” including in “the Catholic schools in D.C., where the education is more important to people.”
A late addition to the class was linebacker Paul Davis of Cairo, who had committed to Temple.
ROOF READY TO LEAD ALMA MATER’S DEFENSE: The Jackets named alumnus Ted Roof defensive coordinator. He held the same position at Penn State last season and at Auburn when the Tigers won the national championship following the 2010 season. Roof was a four-year letterwinner as a linebacker under coach Bill Curry from 1982-85. Roof returned to Georgia Tech in 1998 to serve as linebackers coach under coach George O’Leary. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in 1999 and held that position for three years.
SPRING SNAPSHOT: Practice priorities include learning Ted Roof’s defensive schemes, and the expected shift to a 4-3, is the first order of business. He’ll benefit from eight returning starters. Tech has continuity on the offensive side, where Johnson has Vad Lee returning at quarterback. The Jackets must find a replacement for A-back Orwin Smith, who averaged 8.6 yards per carry and led the team with 288 receiving yards.
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2013:— QB Lee played in 12 games as a redshirt freshman, throwing for 596 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions. But he completed 48.2 percent of his throws. Lee ran for 544 yards and nine scores. Entering 2013 as the starter, Lee needs Tech’s young receivers to develop.
— S Jemea Thomas of Fitzgerald flirted with the idea of leaving for the NFL but returns as one of Tech’s top playmakers. He had 86 tackles, four interceptions and six pass breakups last season. Thomas’ return makes new coordinator Ted Roof’s job much easier.
— DB/KR Jamal Golden averaged 14.6 yards on punt returns and 28.3 yards on kickoff returns, and took two kickoffs back for touchdowns. He also had 24 tackles and three interceptions. Golden enters 2013 as one of the nation’s most dangerous returners.
PLAYER NOTES: OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, one of Tech’s all-time sack leaders, opted to return for his senior season rather than go to the NFL. He has 19 sacks, tied for eighth on Tech’s all-time list with current Cincinnati Bengal Michael Johnson.
Safety Isaiah Johnson also returns for his senior season. He led the team with 87 tackles last year, adding 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble.