Defensive Lineman Could be the Best

The elite football prospects who garner scholarship offers from Southeastern Conference programs are generally known targets before their senior seasons. Usually, college coaches recruiting their territories will enter their names into databases for future reference. Occasionally, a truly talented prospect will become a fixture in the conversations of college coaches before his time in the spotlight arrives.

One such prospect is defensive lineman Kyle Tatum. Rumblings about Tatum's potential were spreading through college coaching circles during the spring of his sophomore year. Talented prospects in the Class of 2001 like running back Kelsey Sheppard and defensive back Roman Harper brought college coaches to Prattville, Alabama during the 2000 May Evaluation Period. Tatum was preparing to make the move from tight end to defensive end and his physical tools were perfectly suited to his new position.

"Kyle's size, strength, and mobility give him unlimited potential," said Prattville High School Head Coach Bill Clark. "He's a good kid with a lot of desire. Kyle's a hard worker who drew a lot of double-teams."

Standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 259 pounds alone will get a prospect a look from college coaches but Tatum also brings unusual athleticism to the table. He recently participated in summer football camps at Ole Miss and Auburn where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.8 and 4.7 seconds, respectively. The 4.8 at Ole Miss is particularly impressive when the poor field conditions due to heavy rains are considered. Additionally, Tatum posted a 30-inch vertical jump at both camps. However, the most impressive physical feat turned in by Tatum could be the 4.1 seconds it took for him to run the NFL shuttle drill. The test is a measurement of flexibility and quickness and Tatum's time would even be impressive for a much smaller skill player.

Flexibility and quickness are keys to the production of defensive linemen and Tatum didn't disappoint during his first year in his new position. As a junior, Tatum tallied 75 tackles, 19 tackles for losses, nine sacks, four fumbles caused, and two fumbles recovered. One of Tatum's fumble recoveries provided a lineman's dream as he ran it back for a touchdown.

Tatum is also getting it done in the classroom where he maintains a 3.75 GPA and he has already scored a 19 on the ACT. Athletic ability, character, and strong academics could be the reason the May Evaluation Period brought about somewhat of a rare recruiting experience for the majority of football prospects. College coaches are allowed to visit a prospect's school but Tatum's visit was not the standard variety.

"Nick Saban, the head coach at LSU, came to see Kyle in May," said his father, Kenny Tatum.

The Tatum family is no stranger to the recruiting process as Kenny played at Troy State and brother Keith played at UT-Chattanooga. Consequently, they understand the statement being made when the head coach of a major college program makes a personal visit to the school of a prospect.

Being recruited is not the only thing in common among the Tatum men. Each has worn the number 85 jersey at Prattville High School and the family could lay claim to a specific position on the gridiron as well.

"I wanted 85 because my father and brother both wore 85 for Prattville," said Kyle. "They both played tight end and I'll being playing some tight end as a senior, too. I played it a good bit during spring practice."

Coach Clark echoed the plans for Tatum's last season on the prep level.

"Kyle will continue to play on the defensive line for us but he'll also return to tight end as a senior," said Coach Clark.

The tight end position may hold some sentimental value for Tatum but defense is where his heart resides. The position may have been new to him last year but it didn't take Tatum long to see the advantages.

"I love playing defense," Tatum said. "It suits me mentally. I visualize sacking the quarterback and running right through him."

Determining where he'll spend his college days sacking quarterbacks is still a work in progress. Summer camps at Auburn and Ole Miss were part of the puzzle. Additional camp dates are on the family calendar but only two are almost certain to be fulfilled.

"I'm definitely camping at Alabama and LSU," said Tatum. "I'll probably camp at Florida State and maybe Florida."

The trip to Tuscaloosa will not be the first for Tatum this year. In fact, he has already attended Junior Day and the A-Day game at the Capstone. While Tatum is keeping an open mind toward the recruiting process it would be fair to say the Crimson Tide is in good shape with him.

"I've always grown up watching Alabama and I kind of want to stay close to home unless a program just really catches my eye," Tatum said. "I'm also good friends with Roman Harper. We played Pee Wee football together and have always been on the same team."

Other teams high on Tatum's list are Notre Dame and Louisiana State. Florida, Florida State, and Tennessee are also in the picture for Tatum's signature on National Signing Day. All are quality programs and all have made scholarship offers to Tatum.

Every year, the new crop of prep prospects creates debate among recruiting buffs in Alabama about the top prospect in the state. There is no scientific way to accurately gauge the distinction until each group completes their college careers. Nevertheless, perhaps no prospect in the state has received the quantity of scholarship offers that Tatum has, and that would have to be considered.

Editor's Note: Kyle Tatum is a very strong possibility to make a public commitment to the University of Alabama at some point in the recruiting process.

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