In nearly every state, there is a certain metropolitan area that is considered a key battleground area. In the state of Alabama, it goes without saying that area is Mobile.
When current Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was at Alabama, there was nobody better in the country at recruiting the Mobile area. Can his success continue with the Noles?
The reason is simple, it’s an area coveted by Alabama and Florida State, even Florida and LSU have had success there over the years, but perhaps most- importantly it's an area Auburn must have success recruiting.
The area sits right in the middle of the talent-rich I-10 corridor, which stretches from Jacksonville, Fla., to Houston and annually produces many of the nation’s top prospects. While it doesn’t get the attention nationally that Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston and Chicago do, it’s clearly of vast importance to the programs that recruit it and make it a priority, including five out of the last six BCS champions.
For the foreseeable future, the region will become a battleground for some of the country’s top recruiters, including Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama assistant Lance Thompson and Auburn co-offensive coordinator Dameyune Craig.
In recent years, the Crimson Tide has taken ownership of the area pulling in names such as TJ Yeldon (Daphne), Marvin Shinn (Prichard/Vigor), C.J. Mosley (Theodore), A.J. McCarron (Mobile/St. Paul’s), D.J. Fluker (Foley), Mark Barron (Mobile/St. Paul’s) and Julio Jones (Foley) dating back to 2008. Outside of the obvious, three of the last four national championships, Alabama’s success in the area is due in large part to the work of Thompson and Pruitt, who left Tuscaloosa for Tallahassee this offseason. Expectations are higher in the area for Auburn now with Craig, a former Blount star and Tigers quarterback, who developed a national reputation for recruiting while he was at Florida State under Jimbo Fisher.
“It's definitely going to be interesting,” Spanish Fort head coach Mark Freeman said. “To me, they're all three great guys. All three of them are really great recruiters and have been very good to our kids and our program. I know they'll all be down here once we get going, so it will be interesting. It will get going here in a while. There's so much talent down here that they have to get down here to recruit. There's so much talent per capita down here with a lot of great players and a lot of great coaches. There's a lot of talent that comes out of Mobile and Baldwin County.”
Daphne offensive and recruiting coordinator Mike Vickery knows the importance and pressure for the in-state programs in terms of perception, as much as reality.
"I expect there to be some fun battles going on between those guys," Vickery said. "I know they all have a lot of respect for each other and are all three really competitive guys. I think it's much more important for Alabama and Auburn. I think anytime Florida State comes in and gets a guy or two, it's icing on the cake. For Alabama and Auburn, though it's really important. There are cycles of talent that come through all areas and here there are always going to be cycles. We've seen some really big years, like with the 2008 class and last year's (2012) class. It's not just important to get those guys, but the perception of how well you're doing in an area trickles down for several years. You saw it with Auburn when they did a great job for a couple of years- it creates kind of a steamroll effect. You've seen the same thing with Alabama recently. It becomes kind of a lasting legacy to have good years in this area. It becomes more important than just getting a Mark Barron out of Mobile."
It was that 2008 haul for Alabama that resulted in Thompson taking home national Recruiter of the Year honors in a class that included Jones, Barron, B.J. Scott (Prichard/Vigor) and Destin Hood (Mobile/St. Paul's) among others.
Dameyune Craig was a standout quarterback at Auburn and made noise on the recruiting trail when he was at Florida State within the state of Alabama. Now that he's home at Auburn, can he do even better?
The following year, the Crimson Tide inked quarterback A.J. McCarron (Mobile/St. Paul's) and D.J. Fluker (Foley) in 2009, two players that will go down in history of a storied program. McCarron will go for a third straight national title this fall.
Most recently, the battle between Alabama and Auburn for five-star running back T.J. Yeldon had the states attention. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound running back was committed to Auburn for seven months before switching Alabama in mid-December in a recruitment that cause thousands of message board fights between the hated rival fan bases.
In the class of 2014, the key battle will be at St. Paul’s for hard-hitting linebacker Tre’ Williams. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Williams is considered a heavy Auburn lean currently, due in large part to a long standing relationship with Craig from his days on staff at Florida State. The recruitment of the No. 28 ranked prospect in the 247Composite will be the first in the area with Craig, Thompson and Pruitt all duking it out.
Top-shelf in-state prospects stay in-state at an 80 percent clip in the state of Alabama, so Craig’s job could be easier now being home.
"I think Lance (Thompson) (who did a stint at Tennessee prior to returning to Bama) and Dameyune (Craig) were at a disadvantage the last few years when they were at out of state schools. I guess that kind of puts (Jeremy) Pruitt at a disadvantage now, but the dynamic down here is a little different than most places. As far as location goes, Florida State is as as close or a little bit closer than Alabama and Auburn. That doesn't become as big of an issue here aside from the pressure that goes along with being an in-state guy with Alabama and Auburn. As far as location goes though, they're equal."
Pruitt can look at one of Craig’s recruits at Florida State for reassurance. Under Armour All-America defensive end Chris Casher (Mobile/Davidson) in the 2011 class signed with Florida State because of his relationship with Craig. The name Casher will also be heard again in 2014 as center Josh Casher (Mobile/St. Paul's) is one of the best true center prospects in the country (No. 4 nationally by 247Sports). The distant cousin of Chris Casher currently has offers from Auburn and Florida State, and is being recruited by a pair of coaches that have been recruiting the 6-foot-1, 280-pound for more than a year, but now with different colored shirts on.
"I don't expect much to change, to be honest,” Vickery added. “All three of those guys have been in this area for a long time- Dameyune and Lance longer than Pruitt, but Pruitt did such a good job stepping in when Lance left. Even as a Tennessee guy, Lance was down here recruiting quite a bit. Nothing has really stopped with any of those three and they've all been mainstays down here. All the coaches like and respect all those guys. I think the same battles will take place between those three, they'll just be wearing different shirts. Those three have gone head-to-head on some guys the last few years."
Along with the jewel Williams and one of the nations top centers in Casher, the 2014 class boasts Top247 defensive end/outside linebacker Justin Thornton (Prichard/Vigor), hard-hitting inside linebacker Deshaun Davis (Prichard/Vigor) and speedy wide receiver Jamarcus King (Eight Mile/Blount) among others. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound rangy Thornton has offers from Florida State, Auburn, Alabama, Florida and others, while Davis has an early offer from the Seminoles as well.
While the area is not necessarily in one of it's upswing cycles, the class of 2015 will have a pair of running backs that will factor into the recruiting war in Desherrius Harris (Prichard/Vigor) and Demetrice Vaughan (Eight Mile/Blount).
Mobile area most recognized prospects of recent years
OT Willie Anderson (Prichard/Vigor) - Auburn
OT Chris Samuels (Mobile/Shaw) – Alabama
QB Tee Martin (Mobile/Williamson) - Tennessee
QB JaMarcus Russell (Mobile/Williamson) - LSU
DT Nick Fairley (Mobile/Williamson) - Auburn
WR Julio Jones (Foley) - Alabama
S Mark Barron (Mobile/St. Paul’s) – Alabama
QB A.J. McCarron (Mobile/St. Paul’s) - Alabama
OT D.J. Fluker (Foley) - Alabama
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