Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Roll Tide-ings, a rundown of everything happening in Alabama Crimson Tide recruiting with Chris Kirschner. Today. we discuss the latest with priority defensive tackle target Jalen Cunningham and O.J. Howard’s cousin Nathaniel Watson.
Alabama still on top for in-state defensive tackle
BUFORD, Ga. — Jalen Cunningham has been to Alabama twice in the past two weeks despite living nearly 100 miles away from campus. He’s loved the Crimson Tide for his entire life and now he has a chance to play for them.
Cunningham, who is the first cousin of former SEC great linebacker Zach Cunningham of Vanderbilt, has Alabama on top out of the schools he’s considering. Georgia and Mississippi State, in no order, round out his top 3.
The Crimson Tide are going to be tough for any other team to beat when Cunningham announces his commitment, which is tentatively going to happen at Saint Clair County High School’s (Odenville, Ala.) first game this season.
“I love the program. I love coach (Nick) Saban, (defensive line) coach (Karl) Dunbar and (offensive line) coach (Brent) Key, who is my primary recruiter,” Cunningham told SEC Country. “I love all of those guys.”
The 6-foot-4, 362-pound prospect picked up an offer from Alabama in mid-February. Despite getting an offer from the Tide, Cunningham is still relatively unknown on the recruiting trail. When Alabama offered him as a nose guard, Cunningham was unranked. He’s now a 3-star prospect on 247Sports and has a 4-star rating on Rivals.
More schools will offer Cunningham before he makes his commitment, but it’s clear Alabama has an advantage.
“I never thought I would ever get recruited by Alabama, so it’s amazing,” Cunningham said. “I actually had the flu that day and coach Saban told me to call him later. It was amazing because he was the one to actually give me the offer. I’m telling you, the next day the flu was gone.”
Cunningham was back in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday for spring practice, and he said he has already envisioned himself taking over for Da’Ron Payne next season at nose guard. He said the Tide staff has told him if he commits, there’s a good chance for early playing time because depth is thin. The coaches are not lying about that. Defensive line is a big priority for Alabama in the Class of 2018, and Cunningham is near the top of the wish list.
The good news for the Tide is that Cunningham has come close to committing to Alabama.
“At junior day (back in February) when I went there and I put on that jersey, I was just like, ‘Dang, I need to go ahead and do this,'” Cunningham said. “I decided to wait to see what else was going to come along. It just felt amazing to put on that jersey because I never thought I would get that chance. I felt at home.”
How can Alabama lose its lead for Cunningham? He offered up a suggestion for other colleges:
“They would have to show me how they would develop me better than what Alabama is going to do,” Cunningham said. “Alabama is not only going to help me on the field, but they are going to make sure my grades are right, too, because I’m a student first.”
He either wants to major in graphic design or computer engineering when he gets to college. In his free time, the 362-pound prospect likes to draw. I have a feeling he’ll be doodling in his dorm room in Tuscaloosa come next season.
O.J. Howard’s cousin hoping for an offer from the Tide
Nathaniel Watson has visited Tuscaloosa several times, but each time he’s been there, he’s left without the coveted offer.
Watson, a 4-star athlete from Maplesville (Ala.) High School, explained to SEC Country how an offer from Alabama would affect his recruitment.
“They would be pretty high on my list because my cousin, O.J. Howard, went there and now he’s headed to the draft,” Watson said. “I would like to follow in his footsteps.”
Watson isn’t as big or as freaky of an athlete as Howard. Watson stands at 6-foot-4 and weighs 215 pounds. He’s been clocked in the mid-4.6-second range when he’s run the 40-yard dash. Compare that to Howard, who stands at 6-foot-6, weighs 250 pounds and ran a 4.51 at the NFL combine earlier this month.
“He was shocked with his 40 time,” Watson said with a laugh. Because of his combine performance, there’s now a good chance Howard gets selected in the top 10 in the draft next month.
Watson talks to Howard as often as he possibly can, especially when the family gets together. The 4-star prospect said he looks up to Howard and always picks his brain about how to get better on the football field. He already said that whichever team drafts his cousin will automatically get a new fan.
Alabama wide receivers coach Mike Locksley and Watson talk at least once a week. They’re just starting to build a relationship. He is planning multiple trips to Tuscaloosa this spring and summer to get more face time with the new Tide staff and hopefully earn the offer.
Right now, Auburn leads for Watson with Ole Miss in second place. The Tigers have prioritized Watson and have made him feel at home.
“Auburn has a really good environment there,” Watson said. “The coaching staff is wonderful. They have some of the best coaches I’ve met.”
If the Tide offer down the road, they won’t become his leader. He said they’ll still be behind the Tigers because of the job they’ve done recruiting him.