The Southeastern Conference is widely regarded as the most talented football league in all of Division I football.
Six of the past 10 national champions hail from the SEC, and for the 11th time in the past 12 years, the SEC led the nation in first-round NFL draft selections.
Additionally, of all conferences with at least one former Cobb County football player, the SEC ranks first in representation with 28 players on rosters for this fall.
Marietta coach Richard Morgan believes the county’s level of talent is a product of a years-long transition that modified how offenses implement schemes. Morgan, a veteran of more than 30 years of coaching, said the recent next-level output from Cobb is a county-wide phenomenon.
Marietta has five players in the SEC — Georgia tight end Arik Gilbert, Tennessee wide receiver Ramel Keyton, Vanderbilt linebacker Daniel Martin, LSU linebacker BJ Ojulari and Florida safety Rashad Torrence. Additionally, linebacker Azeez Ojulari, a former Georgia standout, is entering his second season with the NFL’s New York Giants.
In all, Cobb has 28 players in the SEC.
“I think it’s the amount of passing and the spread offenses that are out there,” Morgan said. “So many more quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends are being noticed by college coaches because of the offense they’re playing in high school.”
Morgan also said he thinks the advent of offensive malleability shares a relationship with how defense is played. He said, in order for teams to cope with new-look offenses, similar to those seen in college, fundamental defensive changes have taken place.
“Defensive backs are better, linebackers have gotten faster and pass-rushers have really had to hone their skills because there’s so many teams and so many passing schemes,” Morgan said. “The way the game is being played right now, it’s really starting to showcase the talents of the kids.”
As such, Morgan said Cobb has caught up with other recruiting hubs in the state — such as Gwinnett County and south Georgia — as one of the primary sources for SEC talent.
“Cobb County is on the map, and (recruiters) all make sure that they all come through every recruiting cycle,” Morgan said.
Several factors indicate Cobb’s rise in rank could continue to increase, keeping the SEC among its top shoppers.
North Cobb coach Shane Queen stressed the fundamental commitment to football as a sport, which he says has spiked in his 17 years with the Warriors. He, too, has seen his fair share of SEC prospects, including his own son, Tyler, who signed with Auburn out of high school.
Five North Cobb graduates will be in the SEC this fall — Texas A&M cornerback Marquis Groves-Killebrew, Tennessee linebacker Joshua Josephs, Arkansas wide receiver Sam Mbake, Georgia wide receiver De’Nylon Morrissette and Kentucky defensive back Andre Stewart. Former Warriors standout Chandler Wooten signed with the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent out of Auburn, while senior quarterback Malachi Singleton has committed to Arkansas for the class of 2023.
“I think, No. 1, it’s priorities. I think football has become a hotbed in Cobb County,” Queen said. “I think people’s facilities are improving, the coaching in our regions has improved since I started coaching, and then it comes down to the players.”
Queen said programs are now, more than ever, exhibiting qualities similar to those adopted in college programs. Film sessions, pre-practice workouts, study hall and offseason camps all construct a year-round training experience.
Couple that with what Queen described as the county’s fundamental commitment to academics, and Queen said he believes Cobb’s football atmosphere has shifted to produce players ready to contribute in conferences like the SEC.
Like other metro areas, the county’s recruiting cycle has also rebounded from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited in-person scouting visits. Morgan and Queen said recruiters were back on campus this spring for the first time since 2020.
“It’s great when you’re in a weight room and you have 12 coaches show up to see your kids,” Queen said. “It’s a motivation for our kids when they see those coaches on campus, because they see that their hard work is not in vain.”
Additionally, new name, image and likeness opportunities offered to top-ranked high school players renews an incentive to seek college programs with significant financial sway.
Several former Cobb players have already utilized NIL opportunities, blazing a path for future recruits.
BJ Ojulari, is signed with Roc Nation for NIL opportunities, whie Torrence signed with Yoke Gaming in 2021. As NIL continues to evolve, Singleton will likely have his share of opportunities as a quarterback at Arkansas.
“I don’t know that the NIL was put out there for recruiting purposes, but it’s targeted that way, and the colleges are having to adapt,” Queen said. “I think these kids are going to obviously take advantage of that situation, when that presents itself.”
Furthermore, coaches from the county have developed stronger relationships with those in the SEC, strengthening the pipeline. While they have always been an integral element of recruitment, Morgan said he has noticed a significant uptick in coaches’ dedication to helping build strong connections.
“It’s all about building relationships with high school and college coaches because we depend on one another,” Morgan said. “They depend on us to come in and recruit our kids, and we depend on them to come in and recruit our programs. And any kid that chooses a school, a lot of times, they choose it because of the relationships they’ve developed with that staff.”