Georgia defensive end Natrez Patrick seems content to play college football in the southeast. Although the university of choice remains a mystery, the coveted 2015 prospect cast some light on where his recruitment currently stands during a conversation with 247Sports reporter Keith Niebuhr (subscription required).
"I think I've narrowed it down to a top five," Patrick told Niebuhr on Sunday at the Nike Football Training Camp in Atlanta.
The 6'3", 220-pound Atlanta product named Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Clemson. For now, those programs appear to be front-runners atop a long list of collegiate options.
Patrick picked up an offer from LSU in February. Texas, USC and Florida State are among those who joined the chase earlier.
He enjoyed an outstanding junior season at Mays High School, leading the team in tackles for loss (27) and sacks (17), per MaxPreps.com. Patrick tallied 83 total tackles and blocked two kicks.
The 4-star recruit is rated No. 6 nationally among weak-side defensive ends and No. 49 overall in 247Sports' composite rankings.
Now that Patrick has shared his possible preferred destinations, let's explore each opportunity for the talented defender. He expects to commit by "midseason" of his senior campaign, per Niebuhr.
Mark Richt has a significant opportunity for immense recruiting success in the Bulldogs' home state, with top-tier defensive line talent like Patrick, Alabama commit Mekhi Brown and top-ranked tackle Trent Thompson.
Georgia has hosted Patrick on multiple occasions. He attended camp in Athens last summer and recently spent time on campus for spring practice.
"I just like the vibes I get from Georgia," Patrick told 247Sports reporter Kipp Adams in February (subscription required). "Every time I go to Georgia I get a good feeling. I have a great relationship with the coaches. They have been very successful and I love everything about Georgia actually.”
Richt always contends with SEC and ACC powerhouse for top players on his home turf. Patrick is the latest premier playmaker up for grabs.
Bulldogs coaches can point to proximity as a key reason for Patrick to pledge. Georgia is also in a solid position based on the personal relationships members of its staff have already forged with the defensive end.
That rapport will soon become stronger, as Patrick plans to attend Georgia's spring game on April 12.
Will Muschamp fared better than just about anyone on signing day in terms of beefing up the defensive front. He landed a trio of 4-star defensive tackles, solidifying the Gators' interior attack for years to come.
Florida should use their presence as a selling point for speedy pass-rushers like Patrick. The Gators currently have solid depth along the outside edge but require reinforcements who can fill roles in 2015 and beyond.
Florida must make it a point to lock down a future visit with Patrick. If he indeed elects to pull the trigger on a commitment midway through the fall, that gives the Gators a limited timeframe to secure an official visit.
The team is coming off a disastrous 2013 season, so a strong start this year could go a long way in the eyes of Patrick and other top prospects. Conversely, if Florida stumbles through September, it will further fuel speculation about Muschamp's future in Gainesville.
Expect the Gators to receive at least one campus visit from Patrick when his recruiting process reaches a pivotal stage this summer.
It's hard not to view the reigning SEC champions as a program on the rise. Gus Malzahn quickly turned the team around on the field, and now he aims to fortify its foundation with a strong recruiting class.
His 2014 prospect haul included three 4-star defensive ends, so Patrick would certainly face stiff competition for playing time as an underclassman. The program has flourished along the defensive front in recent years, producing serious talent.
"They just recently had like three freshman All-Americans -- all on the defensive line," Patrick told 247Sports. "So obviously, that has to do with coaching."
Patrick grew up in Bulldogs country, but the draw of Auburn may be enough to bring him beyond state borders. He has high praise for the program.
"Honestly, I don't see any flaws," Patrick said. "The best thing about it is the home feeling. The fans, the school itself -- you just fall in love with it."
Auburn welcomed Patrick to campus for a February junior day, and he's been a regular visitor throughout his recruitment. He may be back for the Tigers' spring game, per Niebuhr.
Nick Saban doesn't have to worry about whether the prospects of playing at Alabama remain on Patrick's mind. Patrick's high school teammate Dallas Warmack, a 4-star center prospect, committed to the Crimson Tide last July.
Their bond helped lead Patrick to Tuscaloosa for a recent visit. He acquainted himself with Alabama while getting a little extra reassurance from his friend.
"I’ve been with Dallas, and obviously he’s committed there, so he’s working on me a little bit," Parker told 247Sports reporter Charles Power. "He’s always in my ear saying ‘come to Alabama, come to Alabama.'"
On paper, the Tide boast more defensive depth than any team in the country. Saban has collected an abundance of talent up front through four consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes.
"Alabama’s practice is almost like the next level -- they’re elite anyway because the caliber of guys they have there," Patrick said.
He would need to embrace that competition and stay patient during the early stages of his career if he elects to attend Alabama. The Tide would likely implement Patrick as an edge-rusher at outside linebacker.
If Patrick opts to spurn SEC squads, the Tigers are seemingly his top option. Fresh off a contract extension, head coach Dabo Swinney leads Clemson into the 2014 season looking to build off an Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State.
Recent visits have altered the defender's mindset, but Clemson remains in the mix. Patrick hopes to familiarize himself with the staff and campus soon.
"I definitely want to get up there for a visit," he told SportsTalkSC.com.
Tigers assistant coach Mike Reed has made sure Patrick understands he's wanted in Clemson.
“Coach Reed is the main guy I talk to up there,” Patrick said. “He is the one who comes by the school to see me. I have a very good relationship with him."
Clemson is another school that should have a visit coordinated with Patrick in the near future. The Tigers already hold two 2015 commitments from Georgia, including top-ranked offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt.
Swinney's success has been heavily contingent on offensive fireworks. The presence of a defender like Patrick would help the defense provide better balance.
Clemson may present his best opportunity for early playing time, as the team has an immediate need for playmakers along the defensive perimeter.
Georgia has always been at the forefront of Patrick's recruitment, but recent visits to Alabama and Auburn have clearly tightened the competition. Expect both programs to push for an official visit early in the season.
If the Bulldogs are struggling into October, it could open the door for Patrick to push another team past Georgia just in time for an announcement. His admiration for Auburn and their defensive front will ultimately win out as the Tigers pry away a key prospect from the Peach State.
Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
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