ATLANTA — This is supposed to be sacred SEC turf with a fence around it too high for recruiters from outside the South to scale.
This is Atlanta, a city overflowing with high school football talent in the heart of the mightiest football conference in the country. The SEC has won the past six national championships – and it is never, ever supposed to lose out on a recruit it really wants in metropolitan Atlanta.
But there was a different language being spoken at the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Atlanta Award Ceremony in downtown Atlanta on Thursday night
It was not the familiar chant of “S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C”. Oh sure, the SEC had its hooks in a share of the roughly two dozen top football players honored here, but there were different college calls.
Go Irish. Go IU. There were high school football stars here from the Atlanta area committed to Stanford, Arizona State, Notre Dame, Indiana, Wake Forest and Florida State.
This was not an SEC party.
“You get a little rebellious at this age,” said Rashard Fant, a cornerback/receiver from Our Lady of Mercy in Fayetteville, Ga., who turned down Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Kentucky to commit to Indiana. “You want to make your own way, you want to build something, you know what I mean?
“I hear all the time about the SEC – the SEC is this and the SEC is that. I have a chance to help Indiana achieve something.”
When Isaac Rochell committed to Notre Dame prior to the 2012 season, he heard the same puzzled response from the SEC revelers.
How could he leave the South?
“I heard about it all the time: Why aren’t you going to play in the SEC?” said Rochell, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound defensive end from Eagles Landing Christian, south of Atlanta. He was offered by Alabama, among other SEC schools.
“Well, Notre Dame is in the national championship game and I ask, ‘What do you have for me now?’ ”
Joshua Dobbs of Alpharetta, Ga., a 6-foot-3 quarterback, turned down SEC offers and committed to Arizona State. It was not just the wide-open offense of the Sun Devils that will take him to the Pac-12. Dobbs wanted to major in aeronautical engineering, which is offered at ASU. A 4.0 student, he also was lured west by the ASU Honors program.
“The SEC is not the only place where they play good football,” Dobbs said with a smile.
A former SEC commit – Trey Johnson – might be headed outside the league as well. Johnson, a 6-foot-1, 222-pound linebacker from Central Gwinnett High School, had been pledged to Auburn since he was a sophomore, but backed out of his commitment with the firing of coach Gene Chizik and the overhaul of the coaching staff.
Johnson said he is considering Ohio State, Florida and Tennessee.
“I like the atmosphere at Ohio State,” said Johnson, who wants to study sports management.
Dobbs, Fant and Rochell smiled wide for a photo opportunity together, and then Dobbs delivered a message that their decisions were nothing personal against their home turf.
“No, no, don’t say we shunned the SEC,” said Dobbs, who passed for 29 touchdowns and rushed for 10 more. “We just went our own way.”