BRADENTON, Fla. — Georgia sent a text message worth about $810,000 to IMG Academy football coach Kevin Wright earlier this year.
That math comes out of the fact Kirby Smart’s staff offered 18 players at IMG Academy with one text message. Now multiply those 18 scholarships by UGA’s cost of attendance figure in relation to a non-Georgia resident living on-campus ($45,128) for the 2016-2017 academic year.
That’s where that $800,000 comes in. Does that fancy math equate to Georgia making a foothold at the Florida powerhouse? Well, the Bulldogs did sign five-star tight end Isaac Nauta from IMG in January.
Georgia also saw one of its 2017 commitments (Robert Beal Jr.) transfer to IMG Academy for this season. He wasn’t even one of those 18 scholarship offers from earlier this year, but there are a few more IMG players who seem to have real interest in playing at Georgia.
Let’s start with a rare breed at DT
Georgia secured a defensive tackle for the Class of 2017 in Devonte Wyatt. That was good because the pickings were slim around the Southeast this fall at that position.
The Class of 2018 should have brighter prospects. Let’s also take into account the social media hashtag for the junior class. Georgia has already labeled its 2018 recruits as a “rare breed.”
IMG defensive tackle TK Chimedza qualifies there. He’s rated as the nation’s No. 13 DT for 2018 and the No. 141 player overall.
He carries an uncommon profile because he grew up swimming in Metro Atlanta. Defensive tackles that can pull off the best Michael Phelps impression on the IMG squad are very rare.
He grew up swimming the freestyle and the butterfly and classified himself as a former “All-County” swimmer. Chimedza said he was still very active in the pool as recently as three years ago.
“Swimming is probably the hardest thing to do physically,” Chimedza said. “That definitely helped me with my conditioning to play football and play the defensive line.”
The 6-foot-3, 288-pounder got one of those 18 offers from Georgia this spring. He’d been at Dacula (Ga.) High now if he hadn’t transferred to the Florida powerhouse. He does plan to enroll early and is currently planning to make his commitment next summer prior to his senior year.
Chimedza already knows two officials visits he will take next fall.
“That’s FSU and Georgia and then also maybe Georgia Tech,” he said.
He also feels Georgia is recruiting him the hardest and made mention of the relationships he has with defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The four-star prospect said he gets in touch with Rocker 1-2 times each week and also speaks to Tucker at least once per week.
“They have told me I’m a great fit for their defense and I have a great relationship with coach Rocker and coach Tucker,” Chimedza said. “They told me my speed is good enough for the defense and how I will complement the strength of the defense they are trying to build with my pass rush and ability to stop the run.”
He already knows Rocker very well.
“I like the guy because he has that on and off switch,” Chimedza said. “Off the field, he is a fun guy, but on the field, he is all business. I like that. He’s always on you to make sure you get better. Some people might see that as him being a jerk with you or something, but I really like that. He’s there to make his players better and the players who are there better want to get better. That’s a good person to have in your corner as your coach to help you.”
Chimedza said he has really good relationships with Rocker and FSU defensive line coach Odell Haggins, but gave the advantage to Rocker.
UGA five-star commitment Robert Beal also has been on him hard about Georgia. Those two are now IMG teammates after both transferring down from Metro Atlanta for this season.
“He’s been telling me to go ahead and make the move but I’ve been telling him I’ve got to wait on it,” Chimedza said.
He rattled off a few reasons why Georgia is standing out.
“First, the education I would get there would be strong,” Chimedza said. “There is a good business program there and then secondly that will be really close to my family. It is only a 45-minute drive. The third thing is the relationship that I have with the coaches. I have already established a good relationship there and I’ve already established a good relationship with the players that are now there, too.”
He echoed a lot of the same sentiments regarding Florida State.
“I talk to Coach (Jimbo) Fisher and Coach Haggins a lot,” Chimedza said. “They really took me under their wing and treated me like family. When I first went on the visit there, I just thought I would be there with a tour guide but I was with Coach Haggins and sitting down and watching film and talking about stuff. They treated me like I was their son.”
He said he has underestimated Georgia Tech in his recruiting, and the key draws there are also the educational opportunity plus the location close to home.
“Coach (Ted) Roof is a great guy and a family guy,” Chimedza said. “He showed me around the campus and I got to meet some of the professors there. I saw a really good picture of how I would be successful there as a student but also after school with my degree. They did a good job of showing me the path at Tech.”
Chimedza said that he felt that the business schools at Georgia and Georgia Tech were “pretty much equal” in his mind. That’s an important point, as he said the most important factor in his decision will be academics.
His last visit to Georgia was in June, but his last college visit was to Georgia Tech. He plans to see games at both Florida State and Georgia this fall.
He goes by the nickname “TK” but that’s short for a rare first name. Takudzwa Kurai Chimedza was born in Philadelphia, and his parents are from Zimbabwe. He hails from a family of athletes. His grandfather was a professional soccer player, his father played rugby, and his sister just graduated and will play Division I soccer at Southern California.
Is there another Sam Pittman offensive lineman at IMG?
Curtis Dunlap Jr. started for IMG last season as a sophomore. The now 6-foot-6, 360-pound junior is rated as a four-star prospect and the nation’s No. 22 offensive tackle for 2018. Don’t dig into that tackle rating, as he sees himself as a guard on the college level. That’s also the position he plays at IMG.
When I asked him what he felt about Georgia, I was stunned by his reply. He could write a five-paragraph essay as to why he will strongly consider the Georgia offer he received this spring.
His former teammate Isaac Nauta was the first reason.
“Isaac was my guy,” Dunlap said. “I loved Isaac, and I can tell you right now if Isaac said Georgia was a place I needed to check out and a place I might fit in at, I’d make sure to go see Georgia and give it a good look just off that. Because that’s how much respect I have for Isaac as a player and a person. You just don’t come across many guys like Isaac playing ball. I loved Isaac. He put a huge smile on my face every day. Just an overall great guy.”
He established a top 13 earlier this year and the Bulldogs were on that list. Dunlap doesn’t have a top 5 or anything more specific at this time. Dunlap said he hasn’t spoken to Georgia recently, but continued to explain why Georgia will have a chance.
“When somebody mentions Georgia to me a lot of things come to mind,” he said. “I was originally working very hard to get an Arkansas offer because I loved the offensive line coach (Sam Pittman) when he was there. He loved to bring in big guys and run the ball. So when he left and went to Georgia I called him as soon as I got the Georgia offer.”
Dunlap said Pittman loves pounding the ball to set up defenses with the play-action pass.
“When he said that to me, something just clicked in my head that Georgia might be a real place for me,” Dunlap said. “I really like that man’s style.”
Bryan Evans, his former coach at Ed White High in Jacksonville, started 24 games for Georgia at defensive back from 2006-2009. Javon Wims — another product of Ed White High School — signed with Georgia back in February out of junior college and enrolled this summer.
There’s one more Georgia connection with Dunlap, as former IMG center Mirko Jurkovic is now a Bulldog. Dunlap has never met him, though.
“That’s another IMG offensive lineman who thought Georgia was the right place for him,” Dunlap said. “So I can’t help but notice all these connections with me and Georgia. Add in that Robert Beal connection, too. That’s a whole lot of reasons for me to give Georgia a real good look.”
Dunlap said he’s hearing the most from Florida, Memphis and Oklahoma right now.
“They love how I play, they love how physical I am and every time I call the coaches at those schools they pick up,” Dunlap said. “I don’t want to bother coaches too much right now by calling all over the place.”
He plans to enroll early in January of 2018. If he qualifies for Nike’s all-star “The Opening” prospect showcase, then look for him to make his commitment during that event next July.
Alabama commitment: “I really like Georgia a lot”
Trey Sanders is rated as a four-star prospect and as the nation’s No. 1 athlete for 2019. Sanders, another sophomore at IMG, is also ranked as the No. 9 overall prospect for 2019.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder is committed to Alabama and has always had that program as his top school. He sounds strongly committed, but he took a visit to Georgia over the summer.
“I am still young and going through the recruiting process and just exploring everything out there I can, but I really like Georgia a lot,” Sanders said.
He said that Georgia will “for sure” get an official visit during his senior year.
“They have great facilities and I am good friends with (UGA running backs) coach Dell (McGee) and we already have a great relationship,” Sanders said.
Sanders got the chance to watch a practice at Georgia and was impressed by the effort level he saw. He said he’s been laser-clocked at 4.5 seconds in the 40. He’s working at both running back and safety at IMG and wasn’t sure which position he will play long-term.
Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.