AUBURN, Ala. -- There were times when Reuben Foster wanted to lash out, to speak up and try to set the record straight. His name has been torn down through the past two years, and he has felt helpless to stop it. Every ignorant, angry, bigoted insult imaginable has been thrown his way, and when he's not being guarded, he'll tell you how much it hurt.
"They're talking like I'm a thug," he said, "and they don't even know me."
They said he'll end up in jail because everyone with a tattoo is destined for a criminal record. They said he's fake because every teenager is certain of what he or she wants. They said he's dumb because every athlete is at his or her most eloquent in front of a television camera.
The same people who wished him luck one minute wished him harm the next.
"They told me, 'I hope you tear your ACL,' " Foster said. "It's crazy how people think and what they'd wish upon you."
There have been plenty of in-state battles for football prospects before, but few have left as much scorched earth as the tug-of-war between Alabama and Auburn for Foster, the Class of 2013's top-rated inside linebacker in the ESPN 150. When he committed to Alabama in 2011, half the state loved him. When he flipped to Auburn a year later, the other half rejoiced. When he ended up signing with the Crimson Tide in February, no one knew what to think.
Hell hath no fury like a fan scorned.
"It got to the point where I didn't know who to trust," Foster said. "I didn't want to deal with it anymore. I got to the point where I wanted to give up football. But I knew if I gave up football it would be an even bigger story."
Instead of throwing in the towel, he internalized his feelings. He learned that what he says has little to do with what connects with people. He learned he can't please everyone, and even now that doesn't sit well with him. He'd rather sink under the wave of criticism than become more depressed by trying to fight against it.
"As soon as I signed the [letter of intent], it all broke loose," he said. "I didn't want to come out of the house. I didn't want to do anything."
From his mother's couch in Auburn, he's eager to send a message to those who don't understand what he went through or what he was trying to do when he made his decision about college. And rather than telling them to just get over it already, he feels the need to apologize.
"I didn't mean for all this to happen," he said. "I'm sorry to the Auburn fans, to the Georgia fans who I got their hopes up. I tried to make everyone happy. I hope they forgive me. To the Alabama fans, I'm going to try my best to come in and please all of them."
To read more of Alex Scarborough's story, click here.
From Greg Ostendorf: ESPN 150 athlete Bo Scarbrough is close with Tide signee Reuben Foster. Scarbrough is committed to Alabama, but will visit other schools all while remembering the recruiting lessons Foster told him.