THE MONTHS AHEAD
The usual suspects of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Auburn and LSU are off to solid starts in recruiting, but what about Tennessee?
Once a recruiting mainstay under Phillip Fulmer, the Volunteers have seen their 2009 signing class under Lane Kiffin implode and their first two classes under Derek Dooley unable to return the program to stardom. Dooley did, however, assemble his third consecutive Rivals.com top-20 crop in February.
“I don’t know if there is a team in the league with more riding on what happens this fall than them in terms of how it will affect recruiting,” Scout.com analyst Jamie Newberg said. “I’m a big Derek Dooley fan, and I always have been, and hopefully he made the necessary staff changes. They have a franchise-type quarterback to build that 2012 team around, and they’ve got some great weapons at receiver.
“They’ve got a chance to surprise some folks, and I don’t think people are expecting a lot from Tennessee. A lot is going to be predicated on what happens this fall. A big season could give them a big boost by signing day.”
Newberg said three other SEC teams to watch will be Vanderbilt and league newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M. He said all three are doing well so far.
“Can Vanderbilt pick up where they left off and continue to recruit at a level we’ve never really seen from them?” Newberg said. “What they did last year was great, but what if they could do it back to back?”
Linebacker Reuben Foster is the No. 2 high school football prospect for the 2013 signing class according to Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN.
Yet his unique predicament is second to none.
Foster committed to Alabama last July, more than a month before his junior season kicked off at Troup County High School in LaGrange, Ga. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder has since transferred across the state line to Auburn High School, where he recently went through spring practice with two teammates — Cameron Luper and Blaise Taylor — who are sons of Auburn University assistant coaches.
“I can’t think of anything similar to this that has happened,” longtime recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg said. “Certainly kids transfer, but not like these circumstances. It will make for an intriguing seven or eight months leading up to signing day, because there is going to be a lot of speculation as to what Reuben Foster ultimately does. I think it’s one of those things that makes recruiting fun.
“Reuben has strong ties to Georgia, Auburn and Alabama, so we will see.”
Auburn High coach Tim Carter said Foster was among several Troup County players who were looking to leave following the February firing of coach Charles Flowers for a reported improper transfer of a student to the school. It is roughly half an hour from LaGrange to Auburn, which has a public school system that ranks among the top 10 in Alabama.
Foster made the move with his mother and his sixth-grade sister nearly two months ago.
“You’ve got people who sit at home and make recruiting their livelihood, but I don’t think this is a big deal,” Carter said. “At this time, Reuben hasn’t shown any signs of wavering, but it’s not something I consult with him about. He’ll probably take some visits, but he seems very content with his decision.
“Colleges have not quit recruiting him, and I don’t even know what a commitment is anymore, but it appears to me like he’s set on his decision.”
Foster committed very early to the Crimson Tide because he wanted to finish the selection process and focus on his academics, and he senses the potential of playing early after this existing wave of talent moves on to the NFL. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is heading the recruiting efforts with Foster, who had 144 tackles, 32 tackles for loss and 14 sacks last season.
“Coach Smart is my guy,” Foster told Rivals.com. “I’m going there for the Alabama tradition but also him, because he doesn’t beat around the bush. He might be a nice coach in the recruiting process, but when you’re at camps, he’ll get all in your tail, so you know where he’s coming from, and I like that.”
When asked about Tide head coach Nick Saban, Foster said, “After I committed in front of his face, they say he hardly smiles, but he smiled.”
The nation’s top overall prospect, 6-5, 250-pound defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville, Ga., has yet to commit but is strongly considering the Crimson Tide as well. Alabama has notched Rivals.com’s top recruiting class nationally four times in the past five years, which helps explain the Tide’s 48-6 record since 2008.
“They’re off to another big-time start,” Newberg said. “The SEC is just brutal. They will have a bunch of teams vying for the top spot, but Alabama has set the bar pretty high.”
Foster wouldn’t be unique in leaving Auburn to play elsewhere. Dee Finley, the No. 6 safety prospect in the ’08 signing class, opted for Florida but recently transferred closer to home at Tuskegee University.
John Sullen, the starting right guard for Auburn University last season, played at Auburn High.
“A lot of times our kids look to leave to get away from home, so to speak, and get another experience,” Carter said. “It just takes a very unique kid to keep all this in perspective, especially a big-time recruit, and we’ve had issues with big-time recruits who focus on where they’re going to play instead of where they are currently and taking care of day-to-day business.
“We really try to monitor all the outside attention, because by this point where Reuben is, it becomes burdensome.”
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...