MONTEZUMA -- For those accustomed to driving on four-lane highways, the trip to Montezuma takes a little bit of work.
The largest town in Macon County, a community just shy of 3,500 residents, is about 20 miles from Interstate 75.
Want to fly in? Better have your own plane. There’s an air strip in Montezuma, one that’s too small for commercial traffic.
Yet in the past week, three people with names that just about any college football fan in the South will recognize spent quality time there.
Those three people -- Kevin Sumlin, Mark Richt and Jim Harbaugh -- were all trying to close the sale in the recruitment of one of the top linebacker prospects in the country.
Even with the late coaching visits, Roquan Smith had one recruiting trip to take. He gave the first program to offer him a scholarship the chance to deliver the closing statement before he chooses where he will play.
It’s a decision the entire country will be watching Wednesday.
Macon County is made up of a series of small towns.
To the west of Montezuma, just across the Flint River, is Oglethorpe. Some 1,200 people live there.
South of Oglethorpe, there’s Andersonville, the site of a major Confederate Civil War prison camp. Fewer than 300 live there today.
And then there’s Marshallville, a town northeast of Montezuma that is on Ga. 49 headed toward Fort Valley. Smith is originally from there, and he still identifies with that community. His header photo on Twitter is a tribute to the town.
“It was where I was raised at, so you’re going to have some love for where you’re raised at,” Smith said. “It helped mold you into the person that you are.
“There ain’t no gathering spot (in Marshallville). Ain’t no place to eat up there, I can tell you that. I’ve been gone for a little while now, but there’s not a place to eat, besides the Vegetable Basket on Saturdays.”
Smith will be spending this fall, and likely the next two, three or four falls after that, in a much bigger community, thanks to his football skills.
A first-team all-state linebacker in GHSA Class AA, Smith ranks 29th in the ESPN 300 listing of recruits in the Class of 2015. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound linebacker, going by ESPN’s rankings, is listed second at his position nationally and fifth among all players in Georgia.
He started to draw attention from recruiters as a sophomore, the same year Larry Harold took over as Macon County’s head coach. But it took a little coaxing to get Smith to focus on football.
“We got here three years ago, and he was one of those kids who was concentrating on basketball and not really focusing on football,” Harold said. “I told him, ‘You’re a football player, and give me one year to prove it.’
“Our defensive coordinator, (Kurt) Williams, did his highlight tape, and when I saw it, I told him, ‘Coach, we got us one.’ I put other kids in SEC schools, and I knew he was going to be one. I told him to write down 25 of his top schools that he wanted to go to, and I just began to email highlight tapes out.”
It didn’t take long for that highlight tape to draw interest. And that interest came from a school that was far away.
“Jeff Ulbrich, he said when he saw the highlight tape, he threw his coffee out of the window,” Harold said of UCLA’s defensive coordinator.
A scholarship offer from the Bruins followed. Mississippi then jumped in.
Still a sophomore, Smith began to get an idea of what was possible.
“I didn’t expect for them to come (quickly),” Smith said. “(Harold) told me that they would come, but I didn’t think they would come that early.”
Smith went through all the typical all-star camps, showcasing his abilities. Georgia became interested, even though the camp he was scheduled to participate in there was rained out.
Toward the end of his senior season, his interest list had a heavy SEC flavor. When asked following Macon County’s Oct. 24 victory over Northeast, Georgia, Florida, LSU and Mississippi were on his list, along with UCLA and Southern Cal.
He only wound up officially visiting three of those schools. He never made it to Florida or LSU, and he took an unofficial visit to Mississippi when the Rebels played Alabama.
Smith chose Southern Cal for his first official visit, which he took in late November.
“I canceled them out,” Smith said, without getting into specifics. “I just wasn’t feeling it.”
His second official visit, Georgia, came in early December. He had been to the campus before, but he wanted to go through the formalities.
“It was a pretty good visit,” Smith said. “The coaches made me feel at home and welcome there.”
Then came a lull. Coaching changes were taking place around the country, and some of the defensive coaches he had dealt with in the past were taking new positions.
D.J. Durkin, who was Florida’s defensive coordinator, was hired by incoming Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. John Chavis, formerly the defensive coordinator at LSU, jumped to Texas A&M. Both programs wound up getting added to Smith’s official visit agenda.
“You don’t want to go play somewhere where you don’t know about them and you don’t have a relationship built,” Smith said. “You at least have to have a feel for each other if you’re going to go play for this guy.”
Michigan went first, with Smith visiting Ann Arbor two weeks ago.
“The Michigan visit was great,” Smith said. “Everything was professional to the T. As soon as you got off the plane to when you got back on the plane, everything was professional to a T.”
Last weekend, Smith went to Texas A&M.
“It was a great place out there in College Station,” Smith said. “I didn’t go too hungry. I ate breakfast at 10, and I’m back eating lunch at 12, still full from breakfast.
“They showed me a great time. They showed that they really wanted me in their recruiting class out there.”
THE FINAL WEEK
Saturday was the final day coaches could visit recruits in person prior to National Signing Day. And those involved in the recruitment of Smith all put in some time in the final days.
Sumlin visited Smith on Tuesday. Richt dropped in Wednesday. Harbaugh’s turn was Thursday, right before Smith headed off to UCLA for his final official visit.
“I had to line the coaches up and let them go into a room,” Harold said of the recruiting process. “They’d be here, four or five at a time, waiting to speak to him. It’s been crazy. And then in the last couple of weeks, they would just come and hang out.”
At this point, the recruiting process is in Smith’s hands. The phone calls and visits are done. If Smith sticks to his plan, the process will wrap up sometime around 11 a.m. on Wednesday, when he makes his announcement in Macon County’s gym, an announcement that will be carried live on ESPNU.
He won’t be the only player signing at Macon County. Out of eight seniors, six will be signing.
The teammates who will be joining Smith: Jerquez Hughey (Air Force), Joseph Daniels (GMC, Garden City or Eastern Arizona), Devontae Hudson (Garden City), Jaqwan Roberts (Lincoln College) and Quinton Harrison (Lincoln College).
“You always want to see your boys doing good,” Smith said. “You don’t want to be the only fish out there in the sea and have all of that on you. I’d rather share it with those guys and have them experience this rather than have this to myself. That would be selfish. I want the best for everybody.”
Not only will signing day be a capstone for the six signees, but it also will be the closing act for Harold as Macon County’s head coach. He was hired as the head coach at Brunswick on Tuesday.
“Between this class and the last class, we will have signed 15 kids to scholarships, which is big for Macon County,” Harold said. “That’s something that’s never been done here. We’re excited about this opportunity for these young men to go to college, earn a degree and play the game that they love.”
The cameras, however, will be on Smith. And, as of a few days ago, Smith wasn’t tipping his hand.
“I’m not fully sure what I’m going to do yet,” Smith said.