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Georgia on Mizzou's mind

ATLANTA, Ga. -- The Missouri Tigers offered tight end Cole Cook last Friday, running back Taj Griffin on Monday and safety Cortez McDowell on Wednesday.

Missouri was the first SEC school to offer tight end Cole Cook.

That trio has something in common. Each calls Georgia home.

For the Tigers, offering Peach Staters is not an anomaly. Rather, it shows a shift in recruiting strategy for the program that recently completed its first season as a member of the Southeastern Conference.

"When we made the move to the SEC [in 2012 from the Big 12], the obvious answer when it comes to recruiting areas because we were so heavy in Texas was to move more to the Southeast," said Missouri safeties coach Alex Grinch. "We play games in that region, and the primary area you would circle on a map looking for quantity and quality is Atlanta and the surrounding area. It was definitely a spot we wanted to get into. I think it's very much like Texas from a quality and quantity standpoint."

At last check, Missouri had 18 known offers out in Georgia to 2014 prospects, and that number likely will grow. All but two of those offers have gone to prospects in the metro-Atlanta area.

In this region, Grinch, hired by the Tigers in January of 2012 (he was a grad assistant at Missouri from 2002-04), is the Tigers' area recruiter.

When Grinch speaks of the Atlanta area's quantity and quality, he isn't exaggerating.

Of the top 100 players in the 247 rankings for Georgia in the 2013 class, 70 resided in metro Atlanta. Of that group, 56 signed with BCS AQ programs.

Because of the region's high volume of major college talent, it allows colleges to essentially camp out there and hit school after school during NCAA travel periods without having to drive long distances on any given day. That gives coaches the ability to remain visible during the periods when they're allowed out on the road.

Cornerback Chris Murphy calls Missouri a strong contender.

"I think Coach Grinch came to my school during the last season, and then again during the contact period right before signing day [in February]," said cornerback Chris Murphy of Marietta (Ga.) Lassiter, a top Tigers target.

A year ago at this time, the Tigers were the new kids on the block in Georgia.

"When I would walk into a high school, it wasn't the first time they'd seen me, it was the first time they'd seen our logo," Grinch said. "At a lot of schools, the coaching staffs have changed, but the schools haven't. They've been recruiting that area for a number of years."

Admittedly, that newness has created a challenge, but the Missouri staff -- and Grinch -- seem undeterred. The primary reason for that is simple. The Tigers strongly believe they have many positives to sell.

"Every school that I walk into I'm a billboard for the University of Missouri," Grinch said. "From that standpoint, it's about educating people. We're the 15th winningest program in the BCS since 2005. We've been to eight bowl games in the last 10 years. We've had the same head coach going on 13 years. From a stability standpoint, we're different than most. From the performance standpoint, we're going to have our sixth first-round pick in the last five years. That's what people don't know. Although I think high school coaches in general have respect for Missouri and have an outside knowledge of us, they certainly aren't experts on us."

Thus far in Georgia, the response to Missouri from prospects generally appears to be positive.

Although the Tigers signed only one 2013 player from Georgia, it was a significant pickup -- quarterback Eddie Printz of Marietta Lassiter, an early enrollee many believe will have a bright future in Columbia, Mo. Printz is one of two Georgia natives on the Missouri roster at the moment.

"They have the highest graduation rate out of any school in the SEC, they put guys in the NFL and their facilities are second to none," said Printz's father, Ed Printz. "The stability of the coaching staff was one of the biggest draws for us as a family in choosing Mizzou."

Quarterback Eddie Printz enrolled at Missouri this semester.

Distance would seem to be another potential issue. Columbia is, after all, a roughly 10-hour drive from the Atlanta area.

"It's not right up the street," Grinch said. "But we're a flight from Atlanta just like so many other places are. And relatively speaking, we're probably closer than people think."

Atlanta-area prospects contacted by 247Sports said they did not mind the distance and suggested it wasn't a factor.

Ed Printz echoed that sentiment.

"Eddie wanted to go far away from home, but still be where his family could come watch him," the elder Printz said. "Also, we'll see six games of his within four hours of here."

That Missouri now is in the SEC arguably is the program's best selling point with prospects.

"Without question, the SEC brand certainly holds a lot of water," Grinch said. "They've turned on the TV on Saturdays in the fall and seen the black and gold of Missouri. A year ago, at this time that may not have been the case."

Murphy, who is strongly considering Missouri, had only watched the Tigers occasionally before they entered their new league.

"All I really knew about them two years ago was that they passed a lot,' Murphy said. "I know a lot more now. I'm a lot more familiar with Missouri. I know a lot more about their defense, and I know about the school more, and the academics."

Added Griffin, a 2015 running back from Powder Springs McEachern: "I like that they're in the SEC. It's the best against the best."

Of course, even being in the SEC has its obstacles.

"We've had a lot of success establishing a high-level program in the Big 12," Grinch said. "And we were the No. 1 team going back to 2007. But some people say, 'You can't do those things in the SEC.' We're battling a little bit of that perception. The reaction to us is positive. I just think there's a little bit of wait-and-see with us being in a new conference.'

Improved win totals moving forward can't hurt the Tigers' recruiting efforts. Missouri went 5-7 overall last season and was 2-6 in the SEC.

Success of Atlanta-area products in Columbia is something else that could give the Tigers a boost in Georgia.

"I think the kids here will have more interest as they start seeing more high-profile guys from here at Mizzou doing things," Ed Printz speculated.

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