Recruiting Mostly Thumbs Up

Did someone post billboards all over the Southeast saying "Alabama won't throw to the tight end"? The only negative of the 2005 recruiting season for Crimson Tide football is that Bama–a team that uses one, two, and even three tight ends extensively in its offense, and which needed to sign tight ends this year–has had only moderate success in that area.

Otherwise the news is very, very good. Less than 24 hours before Wednesday when signed scholarship papers will begin being Faxed to Alabama's athletics offices, the Crimson Tide had 32 commitments and was still in the hunt for a prospect or two. Bama has loaded up on offensive and defensive linemen, quarterbacks, running backs and defensive backs. It is possible that Alabama will be ranked among the nation's top ten schools when the recruiting gurus finish their calculations.

It's true that Alabama had some success in signing tight ends in 2004, which might have been a slight detriment to prospects this year. But signing Trent Davidson, who saw limited playing time as a freshman, and Nick Walker, who was redshirted, may not even off-set the losses of David Cavan to graduation and Clint Johnston, who has had to give up football because of recurring concussions and other injuries.

Tommy Trott, considered the state's top prospect, was a tight end at Trinity Presbyterian in Montgomery. He is the son of a former Auburn football player and the grandson of a former Alabama football and baseball player. Most of his family leans to Bama, and he admitted to being a lifelong Crimson Tide fan. But he chose Auburn. Gabe McKenzie from Mobile never seemed to be an Alabama type and it was no surprise when he also selected Auburn. Bama looked to Jacksonville, Florida, where Colin Peek emerged as an excellent tight end, but Peek picked Georgia Tech.

Alabama did land one tight end prospect, and the Tide is very happy with the commitment of Charles Hoke, a 6-7, 225-pounder from Briarwood Christian in Birmingham. And it's not inconceivable that one or more other signees could end up at tight end. But one reason the Tide likes to sign tight ends is because they often turn into outstanding players at other positions–fullback, linebacker, or offensive or defensive linemen.

The lack of success at tight end is overshadowed by Crimson Tide success at so many other positions.

At quarterback, Alabama will be bringing in three newcomers. John Parker Wilson, 6-2, 210, was signed out of Hoover in the 2004 class, but elected to defer his enrollment to this year. In his eight workouts with the Tide prior to the Music City Bowl, he showed that he will be a contender for at least the back-up job in spring practice. Bama reached into California and picked up Jimmy Barnes, the 6-4, 220-pound son of one of California's most successful high school coaches. Barnes showed in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio that he can compete with the best quarterback prospects in the nation. Jimmy Johns, 6-2, 223, was Mr. Football in Mississippi.

Running back was high priority for Tide recruiters and the result was an extraordinary group. Ali Sharrief, 5-11, 195, was the top running back prospect in Alabama, and he changed his commitment from Auburn to Alabama. In Florida, the Tide landed the state's offensive backs of the year in three different classifications, picking up Glen Coffee, 6-1, 205, of Fort Walton Beach; Mike Ford, 6-0, 200, of Sarasota; and Roy Upchurch, 6-0, 195, of Tallahassee.

Also high priority was defensive back, and Alabama went looking for tall men. Prior to the 2004 season, Chris Keys, 6-2, 205, of Port Barre, Louisiana, was considered among the nation's best. A transfer to Stevenson, Alabama, kept him from playing as a senior, but didn't diminish his reputation. And it was big news when he changed his longtime commitment from LSU to Alabama. Lionel Mitchell was a surprise pick-up, and an early one. The son of former NFL star Stump Mitchell was at Hargrave Academy in Virginia, and entered The University this semester.

Chris Rogers was one of the top cornerbacks in Florida and an early commitment to Maryland, but he will join the Tide. Travis Sikes, 6-4, 190, is an outstanding all-around athlete from Nashville. From in-state, Alabama is adding Cory Reamer, 6-3, 190, of Hoover, the MVP of the state championship game; Michael Ricks, 6-2, 175, of Courtland; and Sam Burnthall, 6-3, 195, of Decatur. It was interesting that Alabama made no effort to attract one of the state's top defensive back prospects, but that prospect was 5-9. Perhaps Alabama's biggest loss was at defensive back, where Clarence Ward switched his commitment from Bama to Florida State.

Although it is said Alabama and Auburn don't go head-to-head for prospects as often as might be expected, the Tide and Tigers went head-to-head for two of the nation's top defensive ends this year. Word from Auburn was that the Tigers didn't care if Alabama got Bobby Greenwood, 6-6, 235, from Prattville, because the big prize for Auburn was Brandon Deaderick, 6-4, 230, of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Bama got them both.

Alabama is bringing back three defensive linemen who signed with the Crimson Tide in 2004 but had to take care of academic work to be eligible. Lorenzo Washington, 6-5, 275, of Loganville, Georgia, and Brandon Fanney, 6-5, 260, of Morristown, Tennessee, went to Hargrave Academy in Virginia. Travis McCall, 6-2, 235, finished up his work at Prattville High School.

Also joining the Tide for defensive line work will be Antonio Forbes, 6-4, 265, of Norcross, Georgia; Byron Walton, 6-3, 300, of Trinity; and Baron Huber, 6-4, 240, of Powell, Tennessee.

Alabama's football team has been very thin in the offensive line, and this year's recruiting effort was aimed at shoring up that area. Offensive linemen committed to sign with Bama are Evan Cardwell, 6-2, 300, of Killen; Drew Davis, 6-6, 286, of Evergreen, a 2004 grayshirt who will participate in spring practice; Marlon Davis, 6-5, 300, of Columbus, Georgia; Scott Deaton, 6-5, 275, of Oak Mountain; Cole Harvey, 6-3, 250, of Tallahassee; and Michael Johnson, 6-5, 265, of Pensacola.

The Tide is adding only two linebackers in this signing class. Prince Hall, 6-0, 240, is a middle linebacker from California, while Zach Schreiber, 6-2, 215, is an outside linebacker from Louisiana.

In 2004, wide receiver was an area of top priority for Alabama, and several freshmen wide receivers saw substantial playing time last fall. It was believed it would take a special player to make Bama's recruiting list as a wide receiver, and the Crimson Tide passed over a number of top in-state prospects at that position. But Alabama is adding Nick Kyles, a 6-2, 190-pounder from Milledgeville, Georgia.

It is possible that some will play a position other than listed here. For instance, both Reamer, a defensive back, and Huber, a defensive end, have been projected by some as linebackers, and some believe McCall might end up at tight end.

The group includes an unusually large number of Florida players, six. Most are from Alabama, 13 including Keys. There are five from Georgia, three from Tennessee, two from California, and one each from Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Alabama was looking for a place-kicker in this class, but the Tide did not plan to use a scholarship to get one. Bama wishes were answered when the state's best place-kicker, Andrew Friedman of Mobile, turned down a scholarship offer from West Virginia and announced he would join the Alabama team in August.

Although Bama is at 32 on commitments and can bring in only 25 next fall, the Tide is still working to land another prospect or two. With Bama able to sign the full complement for the first time in three years following severe NCAA sanctions, Tide coaches are making sure that at least 25 will be available in August. Tide Head Coach Mike Shula has said that there is a plan for every signee, just as there was last year. In 2004 Alabama ended up with 29 signees for only 19 spots. Academic deficiencies could affect one or more players. Others could be grayshirts. And it is possible one or more could walk on or attend on a grant other than a football scholarship.

The most high-profile prospect still available is wide receiver Fred Rouse, 6-3, 187, of Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, considered by some to be the nation's top prospect. He has had very positive things to say about Alabama, but most consider him a longshot for the Tide. He is thought to also be considering hometown FSU and Miami and he has said he may make a final recruiting trip this weekend to Texas, delaying his decision until next week.

Also a longshot, but considered at least a possibility, is defensive end Doug Worthington, 6-7, 257, of Athol Springs, New York. He committed early to Ohio State, but potential NCAA problems for the Buckeyes seem to have cast some doubt in Worthington's mind, and he does like Alabama.

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