Chattanoogans continue to have a reputation for being the adventurous type.
In an age when college football prospects are choosing their destinations earlier and earlier, three Chattanooga-area talents decided not to shut down their recruiting experiences during December's early signing period.
Dalton running back Jahmyr Gibbs, North Murray receiver Ladd McConkey and McCallie School defensive tackle Jay Hardy entered 2020 without revealing their desired locales, though Auburn announced Jan. 18 that the 6-foot-3, 298-pound Hardy had indeed signed last month. Gibbs is the nation's No. 75 overall prospect and Hardy the No. 100 overall recruit in the latest 247Sports.com composite player rankings, marking the first time the Chattanooga area has produced two 247Sports top-100 prospects in the same recruiting cycle.
Gibbs rocketed up the rankings after rushing for 2,554 yards and 40 touchdowns this past season for the Catamounts. He has been committed to Georgia Tech since May but has taken visits to Alabama, Florida, LSU and Ohio State.
"I think Jahmyr waiting, first off, shows you what kind of teammate he is," Dalton coach Matt Land said Wednesday. "He waited until after the season to take his official visits, because he was focused on our season. He was just laser-focused on his season and what he could accomplish and what we could accomplish as a team.
"Also, he committed early to Georgia Tech, and Georgia Tech told him that he had earned all of these other visits. They told him to take those visits and enjoy them. Georgia Tech just wanted to be the last visit."
Gibbs and McConkey are expected to sign next Wednesday, this year's traditional national signing day for college football, giving the Chattanooga area the potential of three Power Five players this winter.
The 5-foot-9, 191-pound Gibbs, who rushed for 196 yards during Dalton's playoff exit to top-ranked Dacula, was at Florida last weekend and indeed is headed to Atlanta for his final visit. He has been the highest-rated recruit for Geoff Collins and the Yellow Jackets since making his nonbinding pledge.
"I think he's got a pretty good idea, but I really don't think he's going to make a final decision until Monday or Tuesday of next week," Land said.
Hardy picked Auburn over Tennessee but wanted to make his announcement next Wednesday along with his Blue Tornado teammates. McCallie athletic director Jeff Romero said Wednesday that the school still will hold a ceremony for those members of the Division II-AAA state champions who will be playing collegiately, a contingent that includes quarterback and Kennesaw State signee DeAngelo Hardy.
McConkey is a receiver prospect but quarterbacked North Murray to its first state quarterfinals appearance. That journey resulted in him having the time to take just one official visit, which factored into his decision to wait until February.
Army, Bucknell, Furman and Georgia Southern were among the schools early on that offered scholarships to McConkey, but his recruitment abruptly changed Jan. 20, when Georgia coach Kirby Smart attended one of his basketball games and offered a scholarship afterward at his house. The following day, he received an offer from Vanderbilt.
McConkey is the nation's No. 1,380 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings but now has the same big-time opportunity as Gibbs and Hardy. He said Wednesday that he visited Vanderbilt this week and will take another trip to Georgia this weekend before announcing his decision.
"I would advise everyone to be patient and not make a decision after visiting just one place," McConkey said. "You need to consider all your options and go see everything. You need to experience all the opportunities that everybody can present you, and then go from there."
With the traditional signing date now just days away, here are the four top-50 prospects nationally who did not sign in December:
DT JORDAN BURCH
6-5, 275, Columbia, S.C.
The nation's No. 8 overall recruit announced at a news conference in December that he would be staying home and signing with South Carolina. Burch picked the Gamecocks over Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and LSU, but he said he wanted to wait until February to sign with his Hammond School teammates. Some recruiting analysts have predicted Burch could flip and sign with LSU, which would be a sizable blow for a Gamecocks program seeking good news after a 4-8 season.
OT BRODERICK JONES
6-5, 288, Lithonia, Ga.
Rated the No. 11 overall prospect in the 2020 class, Jones committed to the Bulldogs last April but has since watched former Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman become the new head coach at Arkansas. Jones took an official visit to Arkansas earlier this month and visited Athens again last weekend along with Sedrick Van Pran-Granger, the nation's top center prospect out of New Orleans who is also committed to the Bulldogs but did not sign last month. "Thanks, UGA, for a great weekend. Still committed," Jones posted on Twitter after his visit. This weekend, Jones is scheduled to visit Auburn, and he will announce his destination next Wednesday. Both Georgia and Auburn are losing their starting tackles from this past season, so Jones will have early playing opportunities at either locale.
RB ZACHARY EVANS
5-11, 200, Houston
Of all the top prospects in the 2020 cycle, Evans has provided the most bizarre recruitment. The No. 16 overall recruit was suspended twice this past season and missed the Texas 6A title game as a result of the second one, and he used a televised appearance at the Under Armour All-American Game this month to apologize to college coaches for his actions instead of announcing his destination. Evans reportedly signed with Georgia in December over LSU and Texas A&M but was granted a release. Those three schools are still believed to be in the picture, though Evans also has visited Ole Miss and Tennessee this month. Evans is expected to sign next Wednesday, but who knows?
S AVANTAE WILLIAMS
5-11, 170, Deland, Fla.
The nation's No. 44 overall prospect was committed to Oregon until early December but is now expected to pick Florida over Miami next Wednesday. He was scheduled to visit Georgia this weekend but announced while on his Florida visit last weekend that he was canceling his trip to Athens.