Nick Saban and staff, particularly Co-Defensive Coordinator and Outside Linebackers Coach, Tosh Lupoi, have tapped into the vein of West Coast talent. Two members from the 2018 class, inside linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu (6-3, 210 lbs) and offensive lineman Tommy Brown (6-6, 320 lbs) and 2019 quarterback J.T. Daniels (6-1.5, 212 lbs) made the pilgrimage to Alabama. The highly recruited players from perennial powerhouse Mater Dei HS (Santa Ana, CA), coached by former USC Trojan Bruce Rollinson, were accompanied by Steve Daniels, father of J.T.
BamaMag.com spoke to Steve, a Detroit, Michigan native, about the visit. “What a beautiful place. Tuscaloosa is amazing,” he replied. A plethora of out-state players occupy the Alabama roster, a fact duly noted by the travelers. “The goal is to get the best-of-the-best wherever they find them. That’s nice to see. There is a ton of competition there and that’s what it is all about.”
Practice observations revealed that opportunities exist for early playing time. “It was high energy and intense. Coach Saban is a real professional. They have the one’s, two’s, three’s and four’s playing against each other on a rotational basis all happening at the same time,” stated the former high school honorable mention All-State linebacker/quarterback for Utica HS (MI), an east metro suburb of the Motor City. “The drills are showing you can come is as the fourth stringer and go ahead and win a job. It is right there for you. This is a way to prove it on the field at all levels. That was pretty cool.” He added, “You have some great players out there competing for a job. If you win a job, you know you have great players surrounding you. You are playing for a national championship every year when you’re talking about Bama. Those are some pretty exciting points.”
The New Tide Offensive Coordinator impressed Daniels. “He is such a sharp guy. I think Coach Saban nailed it with Coach Brian Daboll. You will see more strong young quarterbacks come into the program. The kind of offense he is going to run is more quarterback friendly than most.” Passing schemes are geometrical in nature with options meticulously designed to enhance the chances for success. “The looks are right in your vision almost like a triangular easy way to view the field of receivers.”
Western Michigan graduate Daniels, a first time visitor to Tuscaloosa, had never met Nick Saban. “Coach took everyone into his office individually. I went in with J.T.” The disciplined task master laid out his philosophy for developing young men into adults. “If you start for two years, you’re likely headed for the League at most positions. That isn’t true with quarterbacks yet, but I think Coach Daboll will reverse the trend.”
Extensive research of a limited number of schools is the method Daniels prefers to embrace in the recruiting process - in essence quality trumps quantity. Washington and Alabama are the two programs unofficially visited thus far with Stanford next up in May. Local trips to UCLA and USC are certain as well. A complete tour of the campus included surveying the Paul W. Bryant Hall – Academic Center - and spending time with a counselor. He is interested in studying cognitive psychology. Mater Dei High School has a reputation for excellence in academics and athletics. Striving to achieve against the highest level is promoted.
Leaving the state of California is definitely within the realm of possibility for the junior to be highly sought after quarterback. J.T. was born in Chicago and the family moved 12 plus years ago to the Los Angeles area. J.T., Brown and Tuliaupupu loved the campus and competitive atmosphere according to the elder Daniels. “Tommy has loved Alabama at birth since his Dad was a shot putter for the Tide. Solo wants to compete against the best, pure and simple. There are great programs in California and around the country as well.”
Criteria to sort through the coast-to-coast offers have been formulated. “We are trying to compartmentalize five things that are very important,” Daniels states. “Pride, tradition, academic excellence, the ability to play at the highest level for national championships and being developed by a great offensive coordinator are some of the factors to consider in the decision. Alabama checks a lot of those buckets off. The population and academics are growing. It has a really good feel to it.” Daniels said his son will return to Tuscaloosa for a football camp (July 16-18).
Among the other teams to receive future looks are Michigan, Notre Dame, Miami (Fl), Georgia and Texas. “Most of the choices are multiple in offensive formations and personnel packages,” he replied. “More likely than not they put more on a quarterback than clapping your hands after you saw the signals come in from the sideline. Those systems are amazing but not the best fit or what J.T. enjoys doing. He likes coming up to the line of scrimmage, making the pre-snap read, identifying the mike LB, setting the pass protection and converting the receivers routes concepts with his eyes after recognizing the coverages in three or four seconds. Hopefully, he can get it down to one-and-a-half seconds.”
No surprises on the junket. “The coaching staff was extremely hospitable. They are wonderful people,” said Daniels. “You can tell they are hard workers, in the office early and staying late. I think they do it because they love it. If you can get yourself into that football room, there is a level of respect that everyone shares with each other and a common goal.”
A West Coast bond was formed over the years as J.T., current Bama freshmen Tua Tagovailoa and Najee Harris competed against each other in seven-on-seven high school tournaments. He met Texan Jalen Hurts at an elite camp, too. Daniels describes his son’s finest attributes as, “His aptitude and ability to process, football IQ and passing accuracy are his strong suits. You want someone to make quick decisions and be on time and target. He is pretty consistent at those things.”
Time will tell if the dream of luring any of the three California players to Tuscaloosa becomes reality?