Nick Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa put an end to Alabama’s recruiting problems.
Since the 2011 recruiting cycle, the Crimson Tide has closed those classes out each year with the top spot on National Signing Day. Going back to 2008, Alabama finished in the top five every single year.
Coach Saban and some of the best recruiting staffs to ever have been assembled have pulled prospects from all over the country, and some that were considered a total shock to the most rabid Tide fans that follow recruiting. There have been monumental pulls from Louisiana, the northeast area of the country, and even a few out of Auburn’s backyard.
However, one state has continued to be that fly in the ointment: Mississippi.
You have to go back to the class of 2o11 to find prospects from Mississippi that were on the Tide’s final National Signing Day list (Quiton Dial and Malcolm Faciane). The class of 2010 saw quite a few from the Magnolia State sign letters of intent with the Tide (Rod Woodson, Anthony Steen, and Kevin Norwood).
Even though Alabama hasn’t been suffering from a talent standpoint, what is it about Mississippi that makes the state such an Achilles’ heel in recent years?
Alabama has been a finalist for quite a few of the Mississippi prospects in recent cycles, but just could not close the deal. In this recruiting cycle, the Tide had a verbal from four-star linebacker Leo Lewis from Brookhaven, MS until he decommitted. Alabama also made the final cut for the top player in the state in four-star safety Jamal Peters. Just last year, Coach Saban and staff missed out on four-star safety C.J. Hampton out of Meridian, MS.
Some rabid Tide supporters will turn to allegations of cheating to explain why Alabama can’t close the deal on Mississippi prospects, but I won’t do that here.
“Obviously, this has been a hot topic since Leo Lewis decommitted and even before that, C.J. Hampton seemed he was all Alabama,” Garcia said, adding that the Tide was in the driver’s seat on National Signing Day for Antonio Conner’s signature.
Garcia believes that it’s a combination of pressure to stay in state, as well as financial means to attend college out of state.
“It’s no secret that Mississippi is one of the most impoverished states in the country. Location makes it more of a factor for those kids,”Garcia said. Tuscaloosa isn’t that far from Mississippi, but when you figure in that, it’s easy to see why some of those kids would choose to stay in state.
“There’s so many factors on a personal level,” Garcia added, “like kids helping out at home with family and some of the prospects even have kids of their own.”
For prospects within the state of Alabama, there is pressure to stay in state, and it’s no different for Mississippi prospects. Garcia used former five-star defensive end Chris Jones as an example.
“He legitimately had options to go everywhere. He thought about going to Alabama, USC, and Ole Miss. He got death threats for considering other schools.”
Garcia added that those threats could happen anywhere, but in Mississippi it’s a different way of life. They, like Alabama or Auburn, don’t have a local pro team to pull for, making rivalry games in November that much more important to football fans.
“A buddy of mine in the recruiting industry said it best,” Garcia said of the competition, “Anybody that Alabama wants, Mississippi schools cannot go in and get. The opposite applies as well. Anyone in Mississippi that the Bulldogs or Rebels want to keep home, it’s impossible for Alabama to truly go in and get.”
While fans of Alabama have said to just stay out of Mississippi, Garcia expects Coach Saban and staff to keep pounding the pavement hard in the neighboring state and recruit players that fit the Alabama system.
“You have to keep trying. That’s the name of the game for any coach in any area. If Tony Conner and C.J. Hampton fit better than Player X or Y, he’ll have to go after those guys.”
Mississippi native Bo Davis was added to the staff in the off season, and the class of 2016 already has two commits on board from Mississippi in Benito Jones and Raekwon Davis. With those two juniors on board, and with Davis on staff, plus Saban’s relentlessness on the recruiting trail, the Tide will have some momentum in Mississippi over the next few cycles.
On the other hand, both Mississippi State and Ole Miss are trending on the way up. Both verbals from Mississippi already have offers from the in-state schools, so the staff will have to work to keep them on board.
“Until one five-star guy from Mississippi commits to the Tide, it’s going to be tough to break through,” Garcia said. “It only takes one to get the ball rolling, and Alabama thinks they may have that with those 2016 commits.”