The front lines for three college football teams got an injection of local talent Wednesday as three of Floyd County’s top linemen marked the start of the early signing period.
Darlington offensive tackle Tate Ratledge held true to his original commitment, signing his National Letter of Intent to play for the University of Georgia next fall.
Meanwhile, Rome High defensive tackle Rayquan Jones signed with Coastal Carolina and his teammate, center Aidan Gaines, marked his commitment to attend West Point and play for Army.
Georgia fans were allowed a sigh of relief Wednesday morning as Ratledge put pen to paper and officially signed with the Bulldogs.
The five-star recruit admitted his staunch commitment to Georgia took a hit with the departure of offensive line coach Sam Pittman last week to become the head coach at Arkansas, but the quick hiring of Matt Luke gave the 6-foot-6, 322-pound lineman some peace of mind.
“It’s started with coach Pittman leaving. Of course, that was a big shock to me. It made me question everything,” Ratledge said. “But in the next few days (head) coach (Kirby) Smart and coach Luke both flew in and me and coach Luke started building that relationship. And I built a relationship with him faster than I have with any other coach, and that was a big part of it.”
Ratledge, who is the third-ranked offensive tackle in the class of 2020 according to 247Sports, committed to Georgia in May and will be in San Antonio, Texas, the week after Christmas to play in the All-American Bowl.
He has been a two-way player for Darlington, earning all-state accolades and region lineman of the year twice. With his college choice official, Ratledge said he is relieved to finally call his recruiting complete.
“There is a lot of stress gone, a lot of stress off of me and my family,” Ratledge said. “I feel like it’s a relief to finally know where I’m going after coach Pittman left and coach Luke came in. It’s a lot of stress off all of us.”
Ratledge had several offers from Power Five teams, including most SEC teams and a number of other schools from the ACC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12.
“He’s had an unbelievable career here at Darlington on the field, and I think a lot of this too is a testament to the work he’s done and the coaches have helped him accomplish in the weight room,” Darlington head coach Tommy Atha said. “And his teammates who have pushed him every single day to help turn him into the player he is and prepare him go on to play college football at the highest level.”
Jones is set to head to the coast and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, next fall to play for the Chanticleers of the Sun Belt Conference. He said his connection with former Cartersville head coach and current Coastal Carolina receivers coach Joey King played a part in his decision.
“When I went on my official (visit) it was like family. The coaches welcomed me with open arms, and it really didn’t feel strange. It felt like home,” Jones said. “And I know coach King personally from when he was at Cartersville, so me and him hit it off pretty quick. As soon as my recruiting opened he contacted me right away and told me they were interested.”
A three-star recruit at 6-1, 285 pounds, Jones had 29 tackles in his senior year for Rome, including seven sacks and four tackles for loss.
Gaines made his commitment to Army in the summer and said Wednesday’s ceremonious signing arrived without much anxiety.
“It’s an odd feeling of calm. It doesn’t feel too underwhelming or overwhelming,” Gaines said. “It’s just right in the middle for some reason.”
A three-star rated player and a 2018 All-State selection, Gaines has been a three-year starter for the Wolves, helping them win the 2017 Class 5A state title and getting to the semifinals in 2018.
He said he understands what will be expected of him when he begins at West Point.
“I think I have what it takes as far as going there,” Gaines said. “I’m ready for the challenges it will present and I’m very excited to meet the rest of the guys and get with the program.”