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Southeast Spotlight: Five surprising talent hotbeds

Rivals national recruiting analyst Greg Smith highlights some surprising and under-the-radar talent hotbeds located in the Southwest region.

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1. Savannah, Ga.   

Jake Merklinger
Jake Merklinger (

This one is a little bit of a future’s bet. Georgia is known as the hottest state in the country for recruiting right now. The population boom has helped make it – at worst – the third-best state in the country for high school football. A lot of the attention has gone to Atlanta and its surrounding suburbs.

The next spot to watch out for is Savannah.

There are three four-star prospects in the city for the 2024 recruiting cycle, led by the 67th-best player in the country in Jake Merklinger. Herbert Scroggins III is an early four-star for the 2025 class. Defensive end Elijah Griffin is the No. 1 player in the entire country for the 2025 cycle.

More talent is on the way with a strong, young 2026 group, too.


2. Spanish Fort High School in Alabama  

Mobile, Ala., is known for good football, but there is a high school just across the Mobile Bay that has my attention. Spanish Fort High School has produced some players who have gone to big-time schools, dating back to the 2011 cycle, when offensive lineman Reese Dismukes signed with Auburn.

From 2019 to 2021 the school sent DJ James to Oregon, Kris Draine to Missouri, Christian Burkhalter to UCLA and Micah Gaffney to Virginia. There are also a pair of 2024 prospects – Cole McConathy and Sterling Dixon – committed to Louisville and Alabama, respectively.


3. Lakeland High School in Florida

Lakeland is known as a good football school in Florida, so it’s not a surprise that it’s home to many players that have played college and pro football. It’s the home of Maurkice and Michael Pouncey, Ahmad Black, Chris Rainey and many others who played at Florida.

The surprising thing is from 2007 to 2020 the school had 15 prospects rated four-stars or better and only five went somewhere other than Florida.

The last three players rated that high from the school have all decided to not just spurn the Gators but the state as a whole. Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy went to Texas A&M. Wide receiver Tyler Williams went to Georgia. Defensive back Cormani McClain famously picked Coach Prime and Colorado during the last cycle.

The jury is still out on 2024 defensive back Brayshon Williams, but Florida is in the mix there.


4. Georgia for tight ends

When you think about ‘Tight End U’ in college football, schools such as Iowa, Notre Dame and Miami come to mind. But when you think about it from a high school perspective would you have guessed that Georgia is a hotbed for elite-level tight ends? Here is the rundown from the last three cycles in the state, plus next cycle:

2025: Two early four-stars

2024: Six four-stars

2023: Three four-stars

2022: Three four-stars

Ironically, the state’s (and maybe the country’s) most well-known current tight end prospect, Brock Bowers, is from California in the 2021 class. The state is home to the top-rated tight end for the 2024 class, Colquitt County’s Landen Thomas.


5. Tampa for defensive ends 

Every few years we see certain position groups really start to bubble up with talent in one area. From 2009 to 2021 there were only five defensive ends rated as four-stars or higher in Tampa.

Since the 2022 class there have been five defensive ends rated as four-stars, and one player, Keon Keeley, rated as a five-star prospect. Keeley, a 2023 prospect, signed with Alabama out of high school. The total number is boosted by the trio of four-stars for the current cycle. Booker Pickett committed to Miami recently. Xavier Porter is heading to Louisville and Peter Pesansky is on his way to North Carolina.

Interestingly enough, just one of the current four-stars plans to play college football in the state of Florida.