Shula enjoying recruiting process

Before heading to his seats Saturday to watch the Alabama/Auburn basketball game, football head coach Mike paused to talk briefly with reporters. <br><br>Naturally, one of the main topics of conversation was recruiting.

"We're right in the middle of everything recruiting-wise," Shula acknowledged, shaking his head. "We just hosted our third recruiting weekend."

Shula and his staff entertained 21 athletes last weekend, and their job is still far from over. Though by all accounts Alabama is dominating in-state and ranked among the best classes in the nation, Shula knows that football recruiting can be a roller-coaster ride.

"One thing I've learned is that things change daily," he remarked. "We're still not close to being finished. Some days you feel really good. You get up and hear things that make you feel good. Other days you hear things not so good."

It's common for older coaches to complain about the rigors of recruiting, but for now at least Shula is having fun.

"I am enjoying it," he said of recruiting. "I knew I would enjoy getting to know the families and high school coaches, but probably not as much as I have."

Defensive ends coach Paul Randolph has done yeoman work this year in recruiting, helping establish Alabama as a force to be reckoned with in the state of Georgia.

Shula went on to talk about the bond that develops between head coach and a recruit's family.

"When you see the families you realize they're sending their son for the first time away from home. They're going to trust you with their son. On official visits you see everything. You see how proud they are of their sons and how excited they are.

"Yet they're nervous, because their sons are leaving them. It's an exciting time."

One advantage Alabama enjoys this recruiting cycle is the ongoing construction on new facilities. Bama's state-of-the-art weight room is almost finished, an incredible facility that has not failed to impress visitors and their families.

Asked if prospects' eyes lit up upon entering the new building, Shula responded, "I think so. I know mine did.

"I do think it helps. If you come in there as a prospect or family member, it's impressive. Anyone that sees it I'd be shocked if they didn't say the same."

But as big and impressive as the new facility obviously is, Shula says that in recruiting the personal touch still holds sway.

"We're going to make full use of our facilities, but we're about people, too," was how he put it. "We want to have the best facilities, because we always want to have the best class here. But the bottom line is how these guys feel with us, me as their future head coach, the other coaches and our players. We're going to be ourselves during recruiting. Hopefully, we'll have a great recruiting season."

Wide receivers coach Charlie Harbison has been another very effective recruiter for Alabama.

Every prospect tries to make the decision he believes will be in his best interest athletically. That will never change. But developing a bond of trust between prospect and coach remains key.

"That's what we want to be about," Shula explained, "having these families and these prospects come in and find out more about us, what we're all about. We feel like the more they get to know us, the more they're going to like us. Just be ourselves.

"That's what I remember from when I was up here in January (on my official visit as a high school player), 21 years ago."

Shula acknowledged that one visitor had been sent home early. Later, he wasn't speaking specifically about that young man, but Shula did make a point to talk about character.

"The main thing for us is the type of kids we recruit," he said. "We evaluate their talent, but we're also looking for good character. Obviously academics, the ones that can get eligible and stay eligible (is important). We feel like we've got a very good support system academically for all of our student athletes. We're working in that area with Bryant Hall and that new facility."

Despite coming off a disappointing 4-9 season, Alabama's success on the recruiting trail has been one of the stories this past month in the SEC.

Shula deflected credit elsewhere.

"The best thing is that our coaches are working hard," he pointed out. "They do a great job of communicating with their prospects and with their families. I'm nervous about it. This is my first time through. We've obviously got to have some more good recruiting weekends."

At this point Alabama appears headed toward a potential Top 10 group nationally and among the best in the SEC. But Shula pointed out that the 2004 signing class' actual worth won't be known for years.

Though the title hasn't been officially announced yet, Sparky Woods has handled the duties of off-campus recruiting coordinator for the staff.

"Fans know as well as I do how you measure (the value) of a recruiting class," Shula said. "What's the true measure of a great class? When is it? Is it on February 4, or is it three years down the road?

"It's what you do with them after you get them on campus."

RECRUITING NOTES: Alabama is allowed to bring in 19 new scholarshipped players this fall. The Tide is expected to sign as many as 25-26 players in February, anticipating that several will not become qualified. It's also possible that one or more players may be asked to delay entry into The University until the following January, counting against 2005 scholarship numbers, depending on how qualifying issues play out.

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