- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every college football program wants to hit its home state hard on the recruiting trail, but the size of the state and the talent within its borders sometimes forces them to look elsewhere to fill out their rosters.
This week we are examining where SEC football players have come from in the last decade, tallying the numbers from each SEC signing class between 2006 and 2015. Here is some of what we learned, including the percentage of in-state signees for each program, the high school programs where they most frequently have landed prospects and the out-of-state destinations that have been most fertile for each program.
Today we look at the seven programs in the SEC West. Tomorrow we’ll review the seven schools in the Eastern Division.
Alabama has two of the Southeast’s most fertile metro areas within its borders -- Birmingham (83 SEC signees between 2006 and 2015) and Mobile (69) -- and in-state talent has played an important role in the success of Nick Saban’s program over the last decade. However, Saban’s staff also has plucked premium talent out of nearby states Florida (receiver Amari Cooper, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and running back Derrick Henry), Georgia (offensive lineman Chance Warmack and quarterback Blake Sims) and Louisiana (running back Eddie Lacy, safety Landon Collins and offensive lineman Cam Robinson) that helped the Crimson Tide become the SEC’s preeminent program under Saban.
Signees: 251 (94 in-state)
Percentage of signees from in state: 37.5
Top in-state high school (Key player): Five players -- Mountain Brook (William Vlachos)/St. Paul’s Episcopal (AJ McCarron)
Next-best state: Georgia (38 players)
Top out-of-state high school (Key player): Four players -- Norcross, Georgia (Adrian Hubbard)
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Arkansas has the smallest population of any SEC state -- its 2014 population estimate is roughly 28,000 less than that of Mississippi -- which explains why the Razorbacks rank ninth in the SEC in percentage of in-state signees (29.8). By and large, the Razorbacks do a good job of keeping the state’s best players at home. Only 20 players from Arkansas signed with out-of-state SEC programs, and only Auburn (six signees from Arkansas, including running back Michael Dyer, offensive lineman Lee Ziemba and quarterback/receiver Kodi Burns) enjoyed much success landing star talent from the Natural State.
Signees: 262 (78 in-state)
Percentage of signees from in state: 29.8
Top in-state high school (Key player): Eight players -- Fayetteville (Brandon Allen)
Next-best state: Texas (49 players)
Top out-of-state high school (Key player): Four players -- Booker T. Washington, Oklahoma (Jared Collins)
Auburn and Alabama both hammer their home state to fill out their rosters, particularly considering how they compete for homegrown talent in a state whose population ranks among the smallest in the SEC. That’s one factor in how Auburn has long recruited heavily in nearby states Georgia (60 signees between 2006-15) and Florida (51). Overall, Auburn signed players from 24 different states in the last decade, including quarterbacks who led the Tigers to SEC titles in 2010 and 2013, Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and Nick Marshall (both from Georgia).
Signees: 256 (89 in-state)
Percentage of signees from in state: 34.8
Next-best state: Georgia (60 players)
The narrative about Louisiana has long been that it’s awfully difficult to lure top-tier players away from the home-state Tigers. With 53.2 percent of its signees over the last decade hailing from Louisiana, that narrative appears to be true -- especially since only three SEC states have smaller populations than Louisiana’s 4.65 million. Alabama has landed some big fish from Louisiana in recent years, as have Mississippi State (quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Josh Robinson) and Auburn (offensive lineman Greg Robinson and receiver Duke Williams). But typically LSU is the overwhelming favorite to land star prospects from its own state.
Signees: 248 (132 in-state)
Percentage of signees from in state: 53.2
Next-best state: Texas (37 players)
Top out-of-state high school (Key player): Four players -- Buford, Georgia (Vadal Alexander)
Not only is Mississippi the second-smallest SEC state, but two conference schools are situated within the Magnolia State’s borders. Mississippi State (145 in-state signees) has hit its home state much harder in the past decade than has Ole Miss (79). Overall, 13 of the Bulldogs’ 20 NFL draft picks -- including stars such as defensive lineman Fletcher Cox, defensive back Johnthan Banks and linebacker Benardrick McKinney -- played high school football in Mississippi. Among SEC programs, only Texas A&M (78.8 percent), Georgia (62) and Florida (60.3) have signed a greater percentage of in-state talent than State’s 56.9, and all of those states are considerably larger than Mississippi.
Signees: 255 (145 in-state)
Percentage of signees from in state: 56.9
Top in-state high school (Key player): Five players -- Olive Branch (K.J. Wright)
Next-best state: Alabama (35 players)
Top out-of-state high school (Key player): Three players -- Thurgood Marshall, Texas (Marcus Washington)
Considering that Oxford is located roughly 50 miles away from the Tennessee state line, it makes perfect sense that the Rebels signed 24 players out of the nearby metro Memphis area over the last decade. The Rebels ranked 10th in the SEC at signing in-state talent (29.6 percent), so clearly they look elsewhere more than most to fill in their signing classes. Florida (39 signees), Georgia (31) and Tennessee (26) were the top out-of-state destinations for the program in the last decade, but Ole Miss signed double-digit prospects in a total of eight states.
Signees: 267 (79 in-state).
Percentage of signees from in state: 29.6
Top in-state high school (Key player): Seven players -- South Panola (Tony Conner)
Next-best state: Florida (39 players)
Top out-of-state high school (Key player): Three players -- East, Tennessee (Cassius Vaughan)/Grayson, Georgia (Robert Nkemdiche)/Lovejoy, Georgia (DeMarquis Gates)/Martin Luther King, Georgia (Joel Kight)/Sandy Creek, Georgia (Mike Hilton)
Texas is easily the most populous SEC state and is well known for producing star-caliber football talent, so it’s no surprise that Texas A&M signed the most in-state talent (its 78.8 percent of in-state signees is nearly 17 percent more than runner-up Georgia) of any SEC program. Nearly every Aggie of note in the last decade -- think Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and all seven of A&M’s first-round draft picks since 2011 (Manziel, offensive linemen Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel, receiver Mike Evans, quarterback Ryan Tannehill and outside linebacker Von Miller) -- hailed from the Lone Star State.
Signees: 240 (189 in-state)
Percentage of signees from in state: 78.8
Top in-state high school (Key player): Five players -- DeSoto (Von Miller)
Next-best state: Louisiana (21 players)