Price assembles first Bama class

Alabama Head Football Coach Mike Price was bare-headed when he visited with sports reporters late Wednesday afternoon. He doffed, empty-handed. <br><br>"I was going to bring some hats," he said, a reference to the practice of some high school prospects dramatizing their college decisions with an exchange of college caps.

While the line brought a laugh from the reporters, Coach Mike Price acknowledged that he was at the end of a serious time.

"This is a tough business," he said. "It's tough all over. It's intense everywhere. It's a competitive business. At times it can be a cutthroat business. And the passion of people in Alabama makes it more intense."

Price had praise for recruits like Eric Gray, who committed to the Tide early and stood firm in the face of fierce negative recruiting.

Price doesn't ever expect recruiting to be easy, but he expects to have a better opportunity next year. "This coaching staff had just 21 days to recruit," he said. "We have begun making a relationship with the high school coaches, which will only get better. Recruiting is built around trust, and it's hard to develop that in 21 days.

"Give us a year when the topic of probation is not on the lips of everyone and we'll do the job. Probation was a factor this year. It won't be next year. This staff can recruit."

Price was particularly pleased that 14 of the 17 who signed with the Crimson Tide were from the state of Alabama. "We've won with Alabama kids in the past and we will win with them in the future," he said.

Price went on to add that Alabama would continue to be the primary focus of Bama football recruiting. "We'll start in Tuscaloosa and work out into the rest of the state," he said. "Then we'll go to surrounding states. And anytime we want to go nationally, we can, because of the great tradition of Alabama football. But I don't want to fly over a bunch of good players to go get an average player."

Alabama was limited to 18 signees this year and landed only 17. And some of those may not be eligible, although Price downplayed that possibility. He said if Alabama did not use all its scholarships in this recruiting period that options included the possibility of a junior college transfer next December.

He added it has been his practice to save a scholarship or two to award a walk-on who does well in spring practice or in two-a-days in August.

Price predicted next season's class would be even better, with Alabama out from under the shadow of probation.

And he hinted, "I would like to find a punter." Alabama was involved late in the recruiting process with Brandon Roberson of Northeast Mississippi Junior College.

While Alabama's class is considered by most to be sub-par, Price doesn't see it that way. "I'm very excited," he said. "This is a special group. This is a real loyal group of young men who love Alabama. They are quality players. And they showed great character because they stayed.

"It's a group we can win with. Definitely."

Many of those who signed with Alabama Wednesday committed to the former Crimson Tide coaching staff headed by Dennis Franchione, whose swift departure for Texas A&M in December gave Alabama opponents recruiting ammunition. Price said the new staff's first job was to retain those who had been committed.

Bama ended up losing a handful who had committed, including safety Jarod Parrish to Tennessee and defensive tackle Michael Hill to Florida.

Price noted that that in-state players formed the bedrock of the class. Athletes like Tim Castille are "fulfilling their dream to play for the Crimson Tide."

Price said his staff was also able to turn "two or three" who were committed to other schools. He said a few others that were committed elsewhere did not turn, but he felt good about Bama's recruiting effort. "We at least got them to take an official visit and made (their decision) hard," he said.

The Tide coach acknowledged that he had hoped to sign more defensive linemen. While he noted that Dominic Lee of Birmingham Huffman is a "terrific player," Bama lost out on Hill and on Freddy Saint Preux, a native of Brooklyn who played last year at Dodge City (Kansas) Community College. While most thought the Preux battle was between Alabama and Texas A&M (because that's what Preux had said), Preux signed Wednesday with South Carolina.

As for the ratings of the so-called recruiting experts, Price said, "It's not who you recruit. It's what you do after you get them. We have always been able to improve the players we recruited."

He added, "Our recruiting class would have looked different if guys like Tim Castille and Matt Caddell and Dominic Lee had waited until the last minute and made a big deal of it. But it's a big deal to us. They committed to us a month or more ago and stayed with us."

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