Just before National Signing Day 2017, as the senior class made things official on February 1, Jalen Cunningham sat offerless despite great size and solid production through his junior season at Odenville (Ala.) St. Clair County.
The Fighting Saints, coming off of a 3-7 season, elected to change coaches of late and new head man Matt Glover has worked to get the 6-foot-6, 354-pounder's name out there more.
In-state programs had been evaluating him as well, hitting an apex Friday with the Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide extending a scholarship.
"I've been talking to Brent Key, the offensive line coach. He's been telling me he has wanted to set up a time to talk to coach Saban, he said the whole coaching staff watched my film and loved what they saw and how I take every down seriously," he said Friday. "I talked to Saban today for a while and he gave me the offer, said he can't wait to see me on junior day next week. Talking to coach Saban was amazing.
"He was talking about my grades, how important they are at Alabama with all the programs at Alabama. He said he's going to talk more to me about it when I come next week, just me and him, personally."
Before the coaching change, the only in-state school to show Cunningham considerable interest was on the other side of the Iron Bowl rivalry.
"The only person who came to the school before our new head coach was brought in was Rodney Garner from Auburn, but I didn't get an offer," he said of the Tigers, who have since returned to St. Clair County. "They came and pulled my transcripts, saying they were gonna talk to Coach (Gus) Malzahn about it. They haven't given me an offer yet but they've been talking to my head coach personally.
"I've been working out with Chad Slade, who is from Moody and went to Auburn, at the left tackle position. I'm playing left tackle and noseguard this year to help my team. I prefer D-line because I haven't played O-line since seventh grade. I've been playing nose-guard ever since."
Most colleges project Cunningham on defense although his growing frame suggests a move to offensive line remains a possibility. While he continues to hone his craft on either side of the ball, more and more colleges come in with offers and interest.
It has resulted in multiple visits and will continue through the spring with a late February trip to Tuscaloosa and one to Oxford on April 1 following his first two unofficial trips of the cycle.
"I've been to Southern Miss and Mississippi State," he said. "I went to MSU last week, Saturday. Me and coach (Dan) Mullen talked in his office, it was actually a junior day. Coach (Billy) Gonzlez brought me up to his office and I talked to coach Mullen personally. When we got done talking he asked me what position I wanted to play because they had me as an offensive lineman. They switched it to D-line.
"They said they don't have an inside guy yet and want to build their program around me and what I want to play, noseguard."
As stock continues to rise, don't expect the process to be accelerated from Cunningham's perspective despite growing up an Alabama fan and wanting to play in the SEC. The reasoning stems from his own plan coupled with his new coach, Glover, and one of his former stars as the head coach of Pinson (Ala.) Valley High.
"My cousin is Zach Cunningham, I've been talking to him," he said. "He's been telling me to keep it calm, don't commit too early, take my time and to not take the process for granted. Take it slow, so that's what I'm doing.
"I'm not thinking about committing just right now, I'm probably going to wait until my senior year. I'm not trying to commit early right now."
When that day eventually comes, SEC programs will have perhaps the best shot at winning the race for his services. Staying in the region is ideal, he says, as a trio of recent offering schools have his attention most at this time.
"Right now, if I had to pick three schools it would be Alabama, Mississippi State and then Ole Miss. In that order," Cunnigham said.