How Georgia Tech's partnership with Adidas might impact recruiting

ATLANTA — When Devin Ellison visited Georgia Tech on an unofficial visit in March, one of the first things he saw was a set of three mannequins. They were dressed in mock-ups of the Yellow Jackets’ uniforms and gear that the team will be wearing this fall.

A running back from Jacksonville, Fla., Ellison said that coaches told him about the athletic department’s impending change from Russell Athletic, “and so when I saw that, I was like, Wow.”

It turns out that Ellison is an unabashed Adidas consumer. One of 10 prospects to have committed to Tech’s 2019 recruiting class, Ellison likes the Adizero 5-Star cleats because they fit his wide feet and estimated that 75 percent of his wardrobe bears an Adidas logo.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just really like it.”

So, he’s an example of the prospect that would have previously spurned Tech because of its association with Russell Athletic, right?

It’s not quite that simple.

“I wouldn’t make my decision on the brand,” Ellison said. “It was a plus because I wouldn’t be able to find a cleat that really fit my foot if I went to another school. It was in addition to everything else. The main reason was the academics. That was pretty much the whole turning point.”

The excitement that the Adidas switch has generated among Tech coaches, athletes and fans is unmistakable, perhaps because it means the end of Tech’s association with Russell Athletic as much as anything else. Tech athletes have been looking forward to the chance to have more and perhaps more fashionable gear to wear. (The limited supply of Russell gear was part of their complaints.)

“Oh, man, I cannot wait,” quarterback TaQuon Marshall said in April. “I’ve been talking about it with all the guys. Everybody’s really excited about getting Adidas.”

How it will impact recruiting is an unknown. However, the impact would seem more nuanced than recruits simply considering or eliminating Tech on the basis of its apparel provider. Last August, when the Adidas deal was announced, coach Paul Johnson said he thought it would be a factor, but not a deciding factor.

“The kind of kids that it’ll be a deciding factor for probably aren’t going to get in school here,” he said. “But it certainly can’t hurt. It’s got to help.”

Two other members of the recruiting class offered perspectives in line with Johnson’s.

Linebacker Chico Bennett of Franklin, Tenn., said that, when he made his visit to campus, coaches were excited about the switch. He said his school, Battle Ground Academy, has a Nike contract, but he is “completely cool” with wearing Adidas. He is excited to see the Adidas offerings, but said that Tech’s switch didn’t color his decision making.

“Not at all,” he said.

Another commit, athlete Jalon Calhoun from Greenville, S.C., offered a similar perspective.

“Adidas is a great brand, and Russell is, too,” he said in an email. “I’m just here to play ball.”

Here’s how it might play out. Tech likely won’t ever embrace radical uniform designs as Oregon does. But, if a prospect is watching Tech for the first time, it can help build good feeling if the Jackets have a sharp, distinctive look (and also if they’re winning). When recruits visit Tech and tour the locker room, being able to see an array of the latest gear that is available to team members – from gloves and cleats to T-shirts and shorts – would add to the experience.

“People say, if you look good, you play good,” Ellison said. “I feel like them switching to Adidas will bring them a lot more attention.”

Should they meet players or follow them on social media, hearing or seeing them be excited about the gear they receive would be a plus that wouldn’t have existed previously. When a recruit talks to a coach from a different school, the coach can’t make a dismissive remark about Tech wearing Russell.

When new uniforms and gear arrive, or should the Jackets mix and match uniforms, they can send out images on social media. Duke, Miami and North Carolina’s equipment staffs have Twitter accounts that consistently post the uniform combinations that their teams will be wearing on game day. Those tweets aren’t ever going to win a commitment from a prized prospect, but they can be one more data point in communicating cool and different, a message that was difficult to send with Russell gear.

That said, being aligned with Adidas conceivably could play a bigger role in winning the occasional recruit. Along the spectrum of caring a great deal about gear and uniforms to not caring at all, the football (and basketball) players who have chosen to enroll at Tech have all been within a certain band along that scale. The Adidas deal opens up a new pool of athletes for whom, for better or worse, Tech’s positives could not overcome its partnership with Russell.

There’s no telling how large that pool is, but it’s one that Tech coaches can now access.

Ultimately, moving to Adidas is not so different than projects such as the locker-room renovation and the updating of the football lobby. It takes away another negative.