In the state of Alabama, kids grow up dreaming about playing football for Alabama or Auburn. They attend the games. They go to the camps. They’re typically raised as a fan of one or the other. And while most of them will never get that opportunity, the ones that do rarely leave the state.
Nick Saban and Gus Malzahn have put up this imaginary barricade around the state’s border with a sign that might as well read 'keep out.'
Success on the field and in sending players to the NFL, have also helped recruit.
Whatever the reason, it’s made it nearly impossible for outside teams to poach recruits. Since Malzahn took over at Auburn in December 2012, there have been 28 recruits from Alabama ranked in the ESPN 300. Of those 28, only seven left the state. In that same span, there have been eight prospects ranked in the top 50, and all eight went on to sign with Alabama or Auburn.
Both Davis and Wilson have Alabama in their top two. That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. They’re homegrown. But the other school in their top two isn’t Auburn, the other in-state power. It’s Georgia. And with former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart now the head coach in Athens, the Bulldogs have become a real threat to land both players.
“I felt the move coming because [Smart] had been there so long under Coach Saban,” Wilson said. “I felt like he had enough experience to go along and win him some national championships also. It was a great move for him and also his family.”
Davis admits he was a little more surprised when Smart left Alabama for Georgia, but the move has had a profound impact on his recruitment.
“That’s why [Georgia] boosted up on my list,” Davis said. “I had a great visit while Coach [Mark] Richt was there. It felt like home to me. But with [Smart] going there and Coach [Mel] Tucker -- the secondary coach at Alabama -- going there, it really boosted them on my list.”
Come signing day, both players might still choose Alabama. In fact, that’s what many are predicting will happen. And if it does, it means seven of the eight ESPN 300 recruits from the state of Alabama will have signed with either the Tide or the Tigers. Same old story, right?
Times are changing, though.
Smart knows the 2017, 2018 and even 2019 prospects that were on Alabama’s board, and he’s going to recruit those same players. Fellow SEC coaches Jim McElwain and Will Muschamp have also worked in Alabama, and they will not shy away from the top talent in the state. And after back-to-back wins over the Tide, it’s only a matter of time before Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss start to make some noise in the Yellowhammer State.
Take Malcolm Askew as an example. He’s one of the state’s top prospects in the 2017 class, and he grew up going to Alabama’s camps every year. His dream was to one day play for the Tide. But now that he has over 40 scholarship offers, that dream has changed.
“Once the recruiting process kind of kicks in, now you can’t really say you want to go to that school,” Askew said. “Now you’ve got to look at everything because everybody is coming just as hard.”
This week alone, coaches from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Mississippi State have all been by to see Askew, and he's not even signing next week. He can't sign with a school for another year. He doesn’t plan to make a decision until next December.
But that won’t stop them from coming. Everybody wants the best players, and they'll do whatever it takes to get them.
Even if that means breaking down the barrier in Alabama to get them.