Filling Needs

Alabama's football coaching staff had almost perfect attendance in front of television sets late Wednesday morning to watch the press conference of high school All-America offensive lineman Andre Smith. The one absentee, Head Coach Mike Shula, had other obligations.

While the Alabama coaching staff saw Andre Smith's announcement turn the Crimson Tide recruiting effort from Very Good to Excellent, Mike Shula was with his wife Shari as she delivered the Shulas third daughter less than half an hour before Smith's delivery.

There was much talk of tradition after Smith made his announcement with a neat twist on the cliche cap trick, donning a houndstooth hat–the signature of legendary Alabama Coach Paul Bryant.

Randy Ross, who as director of football operations wears the hat of the on-campus recruiting coordinator, said, "People say that tradition doesn't matter. I think it's everything, and Andre summed that up today."

Ross, who agreed that Alabama needed to sign Smith for perception value since he was so highly-rated and was from nearby Birmingham, said, "We felt pretty good about our chances. We had a good idea he was going to say Alabama. But we didn't know for sure until he pulled out that Coach Bryant hat. That was a relief."

Ross said that Smith was important as a player, but said he is also the type person that Alabama wants in its program. Smith was a national prospect, eventually narrowing his choices to Alabama, Southern Cal, LSU and Florida.

Ross gave credit to Shula, Assistant Coach Charlie Harbison (who recruits Birmingham), and Offensive Line Coach Bob Connelly for the recruiting job on Smith. "He really likes Coach Shula," Ross said.

One tradition at Alabama is that the head football coach speaks about the recruiting class to the media following the last of the signees. Mike Shula understandably broke that tradition this year as he was with his wife and new baby, Ryan Lucy Shula, who came in at about 310 pounds less than Andre Smith. Ryan Lucy, who has older sisters Samantha and Brooke, was 6 pounds, 15 ounces and 19 inches long. She was born at DCH Regional Medical Center at 10:46 a.m. CST.

Shula did issue a statement regarding the recruiting class. He said, "We are happy with this incoming class. We feel like we have addressed many of our needs. There is a lot of talent and character in this class. We look forward to getting them on campus. These players will be big contributors over the next four or five years."

Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines acknowledged that Alabama signed only one defensive lineman, but pointed out that the Tide brought in five new defensive linemen last year, which had an affect on priority and on the ability of Bama to attract new defensive linemen this year. But Kines was not unhappy.

"We signed three linebackers and nine defensive backs," he said. "That's 12 runners and hitters."

Kines said that overall, "This is a real solid class. This is a class that met our needs. We're real excited." And, he added, one reason it has 26 members, only one over the limit of 25, is that the class is a good one academically.

Ross said that 25 newcomers next August would join what is expected to be 60 returning scholarshipped players so that Alabama will be back to the NCAA limit of 85 scholarshipped players in 2006.

Ross said that even before Bama landed Smith that Alabama felt it had a good crop of offensive linemen in the recruiting class. "Andre got a lot of attention, but we felt the other five young men were good players," Ross said. "Andre was the icing on the cake. This is an athletic group, and an area where we had a need."

Ross said, "We wanted to be sure to get at least one quarterback in this class and we were fortunate to get two." He said that one, Greg McElroy of Southlake, Texas, was in Alabama's summer football camp and "fell in love with The University." He said that both McElroy and Earl Alexander of Phenix City would start out as quarterbacks. Although there has been speculation that Alexander would move to another position because of his athleticism, Ross said the plan is for Alexander to be a quarterback.

It was suggested that Alabama got in late on running back Terry Grant of Lumberton, Mississippi, but Ross said that wasn't accurate. "We began recruiting him when he was a junior," Ross said. "He made several trips to Alabama and we knew he liked us. We felt for over a year that he wanted to come to Alabama."

Ross added that Bama considers Mississippi players to be "almost in-state since we're so close to the border." He said this year there were a number of players in Mississippi who met Alabama's standards for athletics and academics and the Tide recruited the state harder than has been the case in some years. In addition to Grant, Bama signed wide receiver Mike McCoy of Brandon, defensive end Milton Talbert of Hattiesburg, and defensive back Justin Woodall of Oxford.

Ross added that players from the state of Alabama will always be top priority for the Tide. "Ordinarily, about 65-70 per cent of the players in the state are Alabama fans. We want to be in places like Florida, where Coach Shula's name is well known. But we don't want to make the mistake of going after a player from out-of-state when we have one as good in Alabama."

Ross said that Alabama wanted to get players who could run and who were athletic. And after the Tide met its immediate needs, he said the goal was to get the best available players regardless of position, which is one reason there are nine defensive backs in the class. He added that because they are athletic and can run, that there could be some experimentation with players at different positions.

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