Jeff Sentell / AJC
Roswell safety Xavier McKinney is rated as the nation's No. 13 prospect at safety for the

Sentell’s Intel: UGA has 3 unique situations with a trio of prospects at No. 1 Roswell

Want a daily lap through Georgia football recruiting? That’s what the Intel will bring at least five days a week. We’ll cover the news and which way this 4-star or 5-star might lean and add a dab of perspective to help fans figure out what it all means.


ROSWELL, Ga. —  Roswell’s football team is in full “Glory Days” mode. The Hornets have won 21 of their last 22 games, played for a state title last year and are likely to at least repeat that feat in 2016.

USA Today ranks them No. 9 in the nation. has the top team in Georgia’s Class AAAAAAA pegged sixth in its national poll. The Hornets have surrendered just 40 points through 7 games.

“We have the best defense in the nation I don’t care what anybody says,” senior offensive tackle Jordan Tucker said. “We just held the last team we faced to 7 rushing yards. No one has run for more than 100 yards on us all year. We plan to keep it that way.”

Assistant coach Dell McGee is Georgia’s primary recruiter for that program. He’s done a better job maintaining relationships compared to the recruiters from previous years. Why weren’t the Bulldogs in better shape with a top prospect like Clemson freshman LB Tre Lamar? McGee will help in that area.

Georgia has its eyes on a trio of 2017 prospects at Roswell. Each sees the program in a different light.

4-star S Xavier McKinney: The nation’s No. 13 safety was once committed to Alabama, but backed off that pledge. He’s rated as the nation’s No. 114 overall prospect for 2017. He will enroll early and has narrowed his focus to Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Ohio State. Those are his official visits. He’s planning to take his Alabama and Georgia visits during the season.

3-star OT Jordan Tucker: The nation’s No. 74 prospect at offensive tackle has shown tremendous improvement since last season. Roswell coach John Ford feels Tucker has always had great feet, but he’s made serious strides with his pad level and hip flexibility. He’s a recent de-commitment from Tennessee and took an unofficial to Georgia last weekend. He didn’t get an offer but the increased attention he’s now receiving puts him on DawgNation’s radar as a potential fifth offensive lineman for 2017.

3-star ATH Malik Willis: Willis committed to Virginia Tech back in June but told DawgNation that Georgia wants him to join William Poole III as the other cornerback in this year’s class. He took an unofficial visit to UGA last weekend. He appreciates the increasing attention from the in-state school, but it appears first-year Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente made a recent decision that will keep him in Blacksburg. Willis also plans to enroll early.

Where do the Bulldogs stand with these guys? We’ll take them on a case-by-case basis.

McKinney is down to 5

Alabama. Clemson. Florida. Georgia. Ohio State.

McKinney told DawgNation he will graduate in December and choose one of those five schools.

The 6-foot-1, 192-pounder fits the new trend at defensive back. He can cover and hit, has ball skills and great instincts. He glides across the field.

McKinney said he's only considering five schools right now. Those are the schools he will see on his official visits. (Chris Kirschner / AJC)
McKinney said he’s only considering five schools right now. Those are the schools he will see on his official visits. (Chris Kirschner / AJC)

Lamar is at Clemson. McKinney’s 4-star teammate LeAnthony Williams, Jr. is headed to Clemson. The 247Sports Crystal Ball says that 88% of recruiting analysts feel he’s also going to Clemson.

How does McKinney feel about all those signs pointing him to Death Valley?

“I do my own thing,” McKinney said. “That’s how I shoot down that question.”

The senior safety sports a collection of body art. One bicep is inscribed “Humble” while the other has a “Hungry” tag.

He is very well-spoken and used to recruiting chats. When asked to speak freely about his decision without the frame of reference of a certain school he delivered an interesting response.

“It is fun,” McKinney said. “That’s the only thing I can say right now. I’m not singling out anybody or any one school right now.”

He’s set up all five officials but couldn’t pinpoint his exact dates. He believes his Alabama official will be for the Mississippi State game on Nov. 12. Georgia’s official should be for the Auburn or Georgia Tech game. The other three visits will take place after the season.

McKinney feels that all five of those schools are recruiting him very hard and couldn’t distinguish any one school outpacing the others.

“Ohio State keeps in touch a lot,” he said. “That’s actually talking to me and not just sending pictures. Bama and coach (Derrick) Ansley stay on me. They called me. Then I Facetimed them. We actually just Facetimed the other day. I talked to Georgia the other day. I talked to Kirby (Smart) not too long ago. All the coaches at Florida are calling me, too.”

He didn’t feel than any of his options have improved their chances significantly with him over the last month. McKinney said the vitriol he received on social media after he de-committed from Alabama will not be a factor. He sounded mature enough to look past unknown trolls on Twitter.

Does Georgia have a legit shot?

McKinney said that he really enjoys watching Florida's defense go to work right now. (Chris Kirschner / AJC)
McKinney said that he really enjoys watching Florida’s defense go to work right now. (Chris Kirschner / AJC)

“Well, they are in my Top 5,” McKinney said. “I don’t really like it when I get that question. They are in my Top 5 so they obviously have a shot.”

He doesn’t know what Georgia could do to improve its chances.

“I have no clue how they could really,” McKinney said. “Everybody is even with me right now.”

McKinney said every school plans to use him the same way. He wants to play safety and get a chance at punt return and kick return duty. He’d like to get a look on offense but hasn’t shared that with recruiters too much yet.

The Under Armour All-American felt Alabama, Clemson and Georgia offer the quickest path to playing time off their depth charts. If fans are looking for nuggets, he did mention Georgia first among those three school. Alabama was the second school he named.

He feels he could play corner or at safety in college. That’s a nod to a new trend. Alabama is popularizing turning cornerbacks into safeties and vice versa.

“When I get to college I want to change the game as far as how that position is played,” McKinney said. “I think I can do that. I can tackle and cover and do a lot of things.”

It is worth noting — out of all his options — that McKinney had the most vivid answers when the subject of playing at Florida came up. His eyes also lit up.

“I like them,” McKinney said. “I love their defense. I watch them and I just see everybody getting to the ball. I see physical play every time I see them. I like watching their defense because they kind of turn me up a little bit.”

Do any other defenses “turn him up” like that?

“Bama does,” McKinney said. “I feel like they have one of the best defenses right now that Alabama has ever had.”

He will make his decision at the Under Armour All-American game on Jan. 2.


Sam Pittman is warming to Tucker

When Tucker knew McGee was coming to watch him face Colquitt County this year, the nearly 6-foot-7 offensive tackle sent him a message.

“I told him straight-up he’s going to see someone different than he did last year,” Tucker said. “That’s because I’ve improved on every level since then. I feel like I can do anything out on the field now.”

Tucker said he enjoyed the personal attention he received from Georgia's coaches on his recent unofficial visit. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Tucker said he enjoyed the personal attention he received from Georgia’s coaches on his recent unofficial visit. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

His commitment to Tennessee came amid a great visit. Tennessee was already his top school and he’d told reporters and even his mother he was going to wait until mid-season to commit. It was sudden. The Volunteers were piling on the commitments that day so he joined in.

When asked to elaborate, the 320-pounder summed up his de-commitment succinctly.

“Tennessee is a great place,” Tucker said. “It is a new place every time I go up there. I feel love, but after a lot of thought and prayer I just needed to slow down and really take time with this process.”

Tucker wants to see if some of the schools that really weren’t looking at him at first might have different thoughts about his worth now.

Enter UGA.

“Georgia was a school I was really looking at but they never pulled the trigger,” Tucker said. “Lately they have started to show a lot of love. I took a visit there last Saturday and now they are showing a lot of love late and I’ve started to re-think things. Georgia has always been in the back of my mind.”

Tucker doesn’t have a UGA offer. If he did, the Bulldogs would “definitely” get an official visit. He has no set time frame on his new decision but felt he likely wouldn’t take his process all the way to National Signing Day.

He wants to visit most of the ACC and SEC schools. He heard from Washington State on Tuesday and was intrigued by their “high-powered” offense.

Tucker said he has received increased recruiting attention from UGA over the last month. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Tucker said he has received increased recruiting attention from UGA over the last month. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

He wore a Georgia sweatshirt to the Vanderbilt game, but that was an impromptu move. His mother purchased a super-sized sweatshirt while walking by the bookstore on the way to the game.

“The reason behind that was my mom was a little mad at me because my pants were a little lower than expected,” Tucker said. “So she went out and bought a sweater. But it was comfortable so I’m not complaining about it.”

Will the fit with Sam Pittman’s offensive line be just as snug?

“They said they really liked my new film and the way I play,” Tucker said. “It sounds like they really want to rock with me and we will see how it goes if they offer me. That would be great.”

He said the Bulldogs will “for sure” become a big contender for him in that happens.

“Georgia always comes to play ball,” Tucker said. “I know they’ve got a lot of talent coming in this year but I feel I can be one of the best out there. Coach Pittman now sends me letters every other day. He really wasn’t going in-depth with me before, but now he’s saying my feet have really improved. So I know that he’s actually watching my film and breaking it down now.”

He hopes Tennessee still needs another tackle as his decision goes along. If so, he’d definitely take an official visit there. That’s the only other official visit scenario he feels comfortable saying would likely take place at this time.

Tucker plans to study kinesiology. He said the academic options at Georgia would also fit him like that sweatshirt.

The senior felt that Louisville and Virginia Tech were the two schools which are currently recruiting him the hardest at this time.

Can Virginia Tech keep Willis? 

Willis seems like a totally different quarterback than the guy I saw in spring practice. He’s completing 61 percent of his passes and averaging 169 passing yards per game. His touchdown-to-interception ratio stands at a healthy 13-to-3 margin.

That’s compared to the 714 passing yards he put up in 13 games last season. He’s also averaging 61.3 rushing yards per game. Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente took notice of what he’s done this year on film.

Willis is rated as the nation's No. 46 athlete for the Class of 2017. UGA likes him at cornerback. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Willis is rated as the nation’s No. 46 athlete for the Class of 2017. UGA likes him at cornerback. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

The 6-foot-2, 188-pounder was already committed to the Hokies as an athlete, but Fuente has altered his recruiting. When he told Willis recently that Tech would now be recruiting him as a quarterback, it was what he hoped to hear.

“That really solidified everything for me with Virginia Tech,” Willis said. “Everything was still a little up in the air for me with them about where I would play when I got up there.”

He wants to be a quarterback on Saturdays. He doesn’t want to be lured to a school and quickly shipped over to defensive back because that’s where his NFL future might lie.

That pre-emptive move by Fuente should be enough to hold off teams like Georgia that might offer as an athlete or as a straight cornerback. Willis said UGA wants to sign him at cornerback in the 2017 class to pair up with 4-star commit William Poole III.

Willis said that Vanderbilt beating Georgia doesn't affect how he views the program as a big-time school. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Willis said that Vanderbilt beating Georgia doesn’t affect how he views the program as a big-time school. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

Give Willis credit for understanding the game. The Bulldogs could dangle a shot at quarterback by offering him as an athlete. There might even be some validity to that as the program does not have a dual-threat on campus. Georgia isn’t even seriously recruiting a 2017 athlete who could play quarterback other than Auburn commit Trey Bishop.

“Georgia would have my attention being that they are the in-state school,” Willis said. “But I feel even if they offered me a chance at quarterback it would not be real. That would just be to get me up there because they’ve got (Jacob) Eason and (Jake) Fromm coming in to play quarterback.”

He’ll take official visits to Georgia Tech, Tulane and Virginia Tech.

“If they offer me I might take a visit to Georgia, too,” Willis said. “Just because they are in the in-state school. But I don’t know if they will offer me now.”



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Follow Jeff Sentell 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.