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Linebacker Chuks Amaechi has two seasons to play for Georgia after transferring from Arizona Western College.

ATHENS, Ga. -- It's never too late to be the first.

The Georgia Bulldogs place an annual focus on recruiting football players from the Peach State, but they will venture into Florida and into the Carolinas as well. They snagged quarterback Matthew Stafford out of Texas and tailback Knowshon Moreno out of New Jersey in 2006, but Chuks Amaechi is the first Georgia signee in Mark Richt's 15 seasons to hail from Arizona.

Amaechi, a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder from the Phoenix suburb of Avondale, is projected to play inside linebacker for second-year Bulldogs assistant Mike Ekeler. He committed to Georgia in late November and enrolled early last month, but it was Ekeler's call in October with a scholarship offer that he won't soon forget.

"He called me so early in the morning that I thought it was a dream," Amaechi said. "I'm answering my phone and it's Coach Ekeler talking to me, and after we hung up, I sat there for a second and thought, 'Did I just get a call from Georgia?' I called my parents, and they didn't believe me. Then I called my coaches, and they didn't believe me, either.

"When I got the offer from Georgia, I knew I had to commit. I shut everything down."

Amaechi figured he was headed to nearby Arizona State for much of his sophomore season at Arizona Western College, where he amassed 18.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He will get a chance this spring along with UAB transfer Jake Ganus to replace the starting inside linebackers of the past two seasons -- Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson.

Georgia's 30-member incoming class, which includes the commitment of Montezuma, Ga., outside linebacker Roquan Smith, contains signees from 10 different states.

"We just want the best players," Richt said. "If we go out of state, we're looking for some special people. We're normally around two-thirds from Georgia, and we were close to that this time around."

Ganus has one year of eligibility remaining after transferring from a Blazers program that was shut down in December, while Amaechi has two seasons left. Amaechi originally signed with FCS power North Dakota State, where he redshirted in 2012, and played in 2013 at Phoenix College.

Arizona Western went 11-1 this past season and finished with a No. 5 ranking in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).

"I'm glad I came in for the spring, so instead of two years I have two-and-a-half," Amaechi said. "(Outside linebackers) Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Carter have been the two people I've been listening to when they have something to say. They are helping me, and I think I'll be ready."

Amaechi's first name is pronounced "Chukes," and it is short for Chukwuma. He is of Nigerian descent, and his name means "only God knows" and was given to him after he was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck four times.

The Bulldogs went way out of their geographical recruiting base to land Amaechi, who has the furthest hometown from Athens since tailback Albert Hollis II of Sacramento, Calif., signed in 2000. Amaechi's inking with Georgia was just as big of a surprise to his friends back in Arizona.

"I got calls from people asking where I was, and I told them I was at Georgia," he said. "They were asking, 'Why are you at Georgia?' I told them that I was playing football now for the University of Georgia, and they were like, 'No you're not.'

"I told them they could look it up online, but most of my friends didn't believe me."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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