Parkview's Billinger: Vandy was right move

Greg Billinger (B. Wiseman)

Lilburn Parkview (Ga.) lineman Greg Billinger shocked many when he rejected an offer from Georgia to sign with Vanderbilt. At a signing day ceremony on Wednesday, Billinger and his family finally broke the silence and told all.

LILBURN, Ga.-- Vanderbilt plucked a peach Wednesday from the heart of the Peach State.

Greg Billinger, Scout.com's No. 33 player overall from the state of Georgia, confirmed the rumors Wednesday morning. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound two-way lineman from Lilburn (Ga.) Parkview High School signed a letter-of-intent with Vanderbilt, effectively withdrawing a summer commitment he had made to Georgia.

"He was committed to Georgia almost right up until the very end," said Greg Billinger Sr., father of the Vandy signee, at a Wednesday afternoon signing day ceremony at Parkview. "I think what sold it for him was the official visit. On the official visits you actually get to see what both sides have to offer academically. After visiting both schools, he based his decision on that."

"I visited Vanderbilt and saw all they had to offer, and just thought for me personally it was a better move," said Billinger, Jr. "They had a lot that I was into [academically] and they knew I would excel at it."

Vanderbilt ultimately made a stronger impression, said the elder Billinger.

"Not only the athletic side of Vanderbilt, but also Coach Johnson and the whole coaching staff are doing a great job. Our son wanted to be a part of that. We're very happy with his decision, and we're just happy to be part of the Vandy family.

"We let him make his own decision, but we as parents wanted to make sure that he saw what each school had to offer before he made any quick decisions."

Billinger, who had earned a three-star ranking from Scout.com, immediately became one of the biggest names in Bobby Johnson's recruiting class of 2006. In making an official visit to Vanderbilt last weekend while still technically committed to Georgia, he risked losing his scholarship offer from Mark Richt and the Bulldogs.

Greg Billinger signs his letter-of-intent at a signing day ceremony Wednesday.

Yet he went through with the official visit, and on Sunday quietly gave a verbal commitment to the Commodore coaches. Afterwards the family made the decision not to discuss Greg's decision either with the Georgia staff, or with the media.

"We never spoke to Georgia again after the [Vanderbilt] visit," said Greg Billinger, Sr. "I think they made a phone call to my son and left a message, but we haven't spoken to them."

Did Georgia end up pulling its offer?

"If they did, we're not aware of it," said Lora Billinger, Greg's mother.

"I'm sure Georgia was probably upset with me, but it's all part of the recruiting process," said Greg, Jr. "I think they kind of found out I was going to Vanderbilt, but by then my decision was made."

Last October Billinger had made another visit to Vanderbilt-- this one unofficial-- to see the Commodores' game with LSU. It turned out to be a fateful visit. On the way back to Lilburn, the Billingers' car was involved in an accident. Greg suffered injuries, including a separated shoulder and a bruised lung.

Billinger was treated for his injuries for several days at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, during which time he was visited regularly by Vanderbilt's Coach Johnson.

"Coach Johnson, Coach Turner and Coach Cain all came by, pretty much the whole staff" remembered the elder Billinger. "That really touched us as a family as a whole, having their support and their seeing us through that."

"It made an impression on me," acknowledged Billinger, Jr. "It was good to have any coach come to visit me, especially the head coach at Vanderbilt. It showed he really cared."

The injuries sidelined him from football for four games. He later returned to lead Parkview, traditionally one of Georgia's top 5A programs, to a 10-3 record and a state quarterfinal berth.

At Vanderbilt Billinger, who said he plans to major in Engineering, will likely help fill Vanderbilt's needs at defensive end or defensive tackle. He played defensive end for Coach Cecil Flowe at Parkview, as well as offensive line.

"We're a big enough school that we don't have to play our linemen both ways, but some kids are just too good to leave off the field," Flowe said Wednesday. "Greg is one of those guys you just can't afford to do without. He moves well and has great strength. He has all the attributes you need to play at the next level."

The Commodores have had three other signees over the years who played under Flowe: kicker Greg Johnson (2002), lineman Jim May (1998), and defensive back Ainsley Battles (1996).

Besides Vanderbilt and Georgia, Billinger also received firm scholarship offers from Ole Miss, Virginia Tech, Duke and Purdue.

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