ATHENS, Ga. — Five-star tight end Isaac Nauta enrolled early last month at the University of Georgia, but this isn't the first time he has been away from home.
The 6-foot-4, 237-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Buford spent his senior season at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Nauta is the first Bulldogs football player to hail from IMG Academy, which did not field a varsity football team until 2013 yet had five of the nation's top 80 prospects on its roster this past season.
"I think going there helps me out a lot, especially being away from home," Nauta said. "It's a boarding school, so you're away from your family and you learn how to do things on your own. When things go bad, you've got to fix it by yourself."
Nauta's teammates this past season included Ole Miss quarterback signee Shea Patterson — the MVP of last month's U.S. Army All-American Bowl — Florida State defensive tackle signee Shavar Manuel, Clemson linebacker signee Rahshaun Smith and LSU cornerback signee Saivion Smith.
The IMG Academy opened in 1978 as the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy and was headed by the legendary instructor who has worked with Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Monica Seles, Serena Williams and Venus Williams. Maria Sharapova, who reached No. 1 in the world in 2005, moved from Russia to Bradenton when she was 9.
In 1987, the International Management Group bought the Bollettieri Academy, and the school since has expanded to golf, soccer, baseball, basketball, lacrosse and football.
The IMG Academy has a 584-acre campus and was used as a training facility for football players before its varsity program was established. Seven members of the Carolina Panthers used IMG when preparing for the NFL draft, including quarterback Cam Newton, receiver Devin Funchess, linebacker Luke Kuechly, cornerback Josh Norman and kicker Graham Gano.
Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh has discussed taking his Wolverines to IMG Academy for a week of spring practice, an idea Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio described this past week as "creative" and one he might pursue as well.
A day student attending the IMG Academy for the 2016-17 school year will have a tuition cost of $19,600, according to the school's website. A boarding student-athlete will face a cost of $72,900, though need-based financial aid is available.
"They offer everything, from nutrition classes to mental conditioning to vision testing," Nauta said. "There is so much stuff that they can offer to make you a better player and person, and for me that was really attractive. Every practice was like a college practice, because every time I would line up, I would be up against a Shavar Manuel or another top-tier recruit.
"There is a lot of competition, so I knew I could only get better."
Alabama tailback Bo Scarbrough, expected to be the Crimson Tide starter later this year, played on the first IMG Academy football team. This year's IMG squad will include outside linebacker Dylan Moses of Baton Rouge, La., the nation's top overall prospect in the 2017 recruiting class.
Nauta described the IMG Academy as "not huge, but there are definitely enough people to where you don't know everybody."
It's a school that recruits from all over the country and will play all over the country.
"The national schedule was appealing to me," Nauta said. "I had been at Buford and had played three seasons of 16 games a year. We cut it down to 11 at IMG, and they were all national games."
8 headed to Indy
Eight former Bulldogs have been invited to the NFL combine — receiver Malcolm Mitchell, running back Keith Marshall, fullback Quayvon Hicks, offensive tackle John Theus, defensive linemen Sterling Bailey and Chris Mayes, and outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. The combine will be held Feb. 23-29 in Indianapolis.
Not getting an invite was inside linebacker and University of Alabama at Birmingham transfer Jake Ganus, who led the Bulldogs in tackles this past season and played in last month's Senior Bowl.
Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer will be the featured speakers at Georgia's coaching clinic on March 24-25 during spring practice. Former Miami Dolphins safety Jake Scott and current Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will also attend.
Scott had 16 combined interceptions for the Bulldogs during the 1967 and '68 seasons before going on to earn MVP honors in Super Bowl VII, while Stafford quarterbacked Georgia from 2006 to '08 and was the top overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.