Official visits not as obvious as they seem

The process by which high school and junior college prospects make official visits to colleges is a two-way street that is also affected by NCAA limits. Obviously, the prospect must have an interest in the college and the college an interest in the prospect. Then there is the matter of working in the visit at a time that is suitable to both.

Sometimes a football prospect is also a basketball player or track-man who will have a weekend conflict (as happened last weekend when Tide recruit Mario Lane had to reschedule his official visit to Alabama). Or the prospect may have a teammate who is being offered a visit to one school with the prospect but not to another. As in the case of Alabama this year, there could be a coaching change that delays the start time for the college to have prospects visit.

And there are the limits. A prospect may make official visits (those in which all expenses are paid by the university) to only five colleges. A college may have only 56 prospects for official visits.

Dwight Stephenson, Jr.

And there are always visit situations that are difficult to explain. This year, Alabama has been trying to add wide receivers in the recruiting process. That's because the offense that will be used by Coach Mike Price calls for as many as five wide receivers at one time. Alabama has an excellent passer at quarterback in Brodie Croyle, who is just an upcoming sophomore. Price has recently returned from two separate banquets at which he was honored as a finalist for National Coach of the Year. His offensive coordinator has been working with one of the hot quarterbacks in the NFL. Alabama has all the bells and whistles that would be expected of a major college football power, great tradition, fan support, etc.

So why is Alabama apparently not going to get visits from two of the nation's top wide receivers, both of whom have played high school football in Alabama? Jayson Swain, a 6-2, 200-pounder from Grissom High School in Huntsville, has committed to Tennessee, while Chad Jackson, a 6-2, 205-pounder at Hoover, has committed to Florida.

Certainly Tennessee and Florida have excellent programs and it may be Swain and Jackson would make those decisions even after visiting Alabama. But isn't it strange that neither is scheduled to visit The Capstone?

Of course, it's possible that one or both will visit Alabama before the February 5 signing day. Jackson, for instance, has told some writers that he'll trip to Tuscaloosa. But thus far neither has given firm indication that will be the case.

But just as recruiting is a two-way street, the players a college does not recruit can be as mystifying as prospects who refuse to visit.

Drew Tate

Dwight Stephenson was one of the greatest players in Alabama football history, and he has been an excellent alumnus. And when his son, Dwight Stephenson, Jr., grew into a 6-3, 225-pound linebacker/tight end/defensive end, that should have been a godsend for Bama.

What happened? No one at Alabama ever called, and the young Stephenson committed to Florida over Miami and North Carolina. He has since visited Notre Dame and some reports have him as committing to the Irish. Another report says Tennessee is trying to land Stephenson.

It should be pointed out that it was Alabama's previous coaching staff that snubbed Stephenson.

That same staff had no interest in tight end D.J. Norris of Pace, Florida, a lifelong Alabama fan who has now committed to Florida.

Fred Sparkman, a linebacker from Columbia, Tennessee, spent several days at Alabama spring practice last year and said that he hoped to sign with Alabama. He never heard a word and committed to North Carolina.

Marquis McBeath, a linebacker from Moss Point, Mississippi, who grew up an Alabama fan, was not offered a visit and committed to Ole Miss.

Carnell Stewart, a 6-5, 285-pound defensive tackle at River Ridge, Louisiana, John Curtis High School, is a lifelong Alabama fan. He was another one who was never contacted by the previous Tide staff. He will choose between LSU, Southern Cal, Oklahoma, and Colorado.

Fred Sparkman

Quarterback Drew Tate of Baytown, Texas, was the Texas offensive player of the year. His family is from Florence. Tate committed to Texas A&M last summer. When the Aggies signed Dennis Franchione, Tate withdrew his commitment. He didn't want to run an option offense. But he let Alabama's new staff know he would be interested in the Crimson Tide's offense. He recently committed to Iowa.

Now, just because Alabama coaches did not contact those players does not mean that the coaches are derelict. Recruiting is not an exact science. The coaches have to determine if the player is one they want to bring in for a visit. And there is probably no veteran recruiter who has not made his share of mistakes both ways­-failing to pursue a star and working hard to successfully sign a prospect who never contributes.

Yesterday Alabama had six coaches, including Head Coach Mike Price and new Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines, in Cartersville, Georgia, in an attempt to entice defensive tackle Andre Fluellen to make a visit to Tuscaloosa. Fluellen decided he would not make that visit. But, as he said, it wouldn't have made any difference on signing day. He's going to sign with either Florida or Florida State.

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