"I'm not a ‘bigger is better' coach," Bobby Connelly stated flatly. "I'm not looking for 330-, 340-pound heavy-footed guys that aren't very mobile. We need leaner athletic guys that can both run and pass block."
Alabama's most recent commitment, offensive tackle B.J. Stabler of Clarke County High school, illustrates Connelly's point. Listed at 6-5, 291 pounds, the long high school season has eaten away some at Stabler's build, giving him an almost lean look. But as Connelly said in an earlier interview with BamaMag.com, that's precisely the kind of athlete the Tide wants.
Connelly explained what he's looking for when scouting a high school lineman.
"There are three main things," he said. "Obviously we want a good-sized kid. We're looking for a kid that can hold up at the collegiate level."
Of course size is great, but unless a lineman can move around and also maintain his balance, he can't play in the SEC. "The second thing I'm going to look for is a kid with the athletic ability to stay on his feet," Connelly said. "Flexibility: a lineman that can bend his body, and he stays off the ground."
Finally, Connelly wants football players. "I'm looking for a kid that's tough physically," he said. "I want to see him compete and not be afraid to put his face in there. Be intense and play physical football. Finish blocks. Those are the three main things."
In the not-so-distant past, Alabama seemed to prefer jumbo linemen. Dennis Alexander, Anthony Bryant and Ahmad Childress all weighed well over 300 pounds when they arrived in Tuscaloosa, and all three have been struggling ever since to get in condition.
Connelly appreciates' Alexander's hard work losing weight this past summer, but when it comes to developing young linemen he prefers to start slim and work his way up.
"I'll take a kid that is 260 pounds in high school and get him to 300 pounds in college," Connelly explained. "I don't need a 300-pound high school kid to come in here right now. We're looking for leaner, meaner, more athletic offensive linemen that can run block and pass block effectively."
College weight training combined with Alabama's training table mean it's much easier to put weight on a lineman than take it off.
"It's much harder to lose the weight than to build it on a kid," Connelly said. "That's my mindset all the way. I'm not here to run a fat camp and to make players lose weight. I want to develop kids. Watch them grow and get bigger and stronger rather than to try to lose weight and then build them back up.
"That's just not my philosophy as offensive line coach."
With his long frame and quick feet, Stabler was a dominant pass blocker in high school. He'll need to add strength for the running game, but Stabler should do that easily. He grew up an Auburn fan, but as the recruiting process wore along and he had time to get to know Alabama's situation and its coaches, Stabler decided for the Tide.
TheInsiders.com recruiting experts rate Stabler a four-star prospect. His scouting report describes him as "One of the top pure offensive tackles in the South this year. Has excellent feet and good hips. Excels at pass blocking."
So far Stabler is the only definite offensive lineman to pledge for the Tide. But Justin Britt, who plays both defensive tackle and offensive guard in high school, has said he'd like to play offense at Alabama. And tight end Trent Davidson could also end up as a "Big Ugly" in college.
Like Stabler, both Britt (6-4, 255) and Davidson (6-5, 242) fall in the "leaner and meaner" category.
Connelly commented, "With what we're doing (at Alabama) with a balanced attack, the linemen have to be athletic enough to both run block and pass block and pull. Some of that has to do with your scheme and what you're going to do. But our linemen have got to be able to get out there in space and move around."
Stabler is the 11th prospect to commit to Alabama as part of the 2004 recruiting class. Other Tide commitments include including Hartselle wide receiver Nikita Stover, East Central (Miss.) Community College running back Titus Ryan, T.R. Miller tight end Trent Davidson, Thomasville defensive back Aaron Johns, Randolph County wide receiver Ezekiel Knight, Fort Payne wide receiver Aaron McDaniel, Jacksonville, Fla. wide receiver Will Oakley, Hillcrest cornerback Travis Robinson, Cullman two-way lineman Justin Britt and Pike County tight end Nick Walker.
Alabama is allowed to bring in 19 new scholarshipped athletes next fall, but the Tide is expected to over-sign by several players, anticipating that some will not qualify.
PLEASE NOTE: The quotes used in this story from Coach Connelly regarding preferred body builds for line recruits were obtained in an earlier interview. College coaches are not allowed to speak on the record about recruits before they're signed and enrolled in school.
Read all of the recent recruiting stories on Alabama recruits from TheInsiders.com.