Alabama is on the hunt for its seventh straight recruiting championship. Join us here on SEC Country for a daily recap of Alabama recruiting news, insight on what’s happening behind the scenes, and for a glimpse at what’s coming next.
Tua Tagovailoa and Alex Leatherwood talk Najee Harris
The biggest recruiting storyline in college football over the past several months has been figuring out the mysterious recruitment of Alabama 5-star running back commit Najee Harris, who is the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit.
Harris has been committed to Alabama since April of 2015, making him the Crimson Tide’s longest-tenured commit. That hasn’t stopped the media and college football fans from speculating on the status of his commitment to Alabama.
But if you ask two of the Tide’s most important commits in the Class of 2017, 5-star offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and 4-star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, there’s nothing to worry about. Harris will be in Tuscaloosa with them next month as the trio will be early enrollees.
“I know Najee is going to stick with ‘Bama,” Leatherwood told SEC Country. “We are his family. I’m confident because I know Najee. Media and social networks manipulate what’s real into what makes a good story.”
Leatherwood spoke with Harris last week, and he said there was zero indication that one of his best friends in the class flipping his commitment. He did say that Harris told him that his official visit to Michigan was “very fun,” but he still feels the same about his commitment to Alabama.
Leatherwood is actually hoping he gets to room with Harris this January in Tuscaloosa. Both recruits are very similar in their manners: They usually do not enjoy talking to the media and are strictly focused on working toward their goals of getting to the NFL. Out of the 2017 commits, Harris may speak with Leatherwood the most.
As for Tagovailoa, he and Harris built a strong bond this summer at The Opening, Nike’s football camp for the best high school football players. Tagovailoa created a small Bible study group during the week and Harris was a part of it.
The two shared very personal info with each other during those Bible study sessions. Tagovailoa can’t see Harris flipping his commitment because of the bond the running back has established with himself and other Alabama commitments.
“I think he’s going to stay committed to Alabama,” Tagovailoa told SEC Country. “He has a great relationship with many of us who are being recruited to Alabama. I talked to him last month and he didn’t say anything about Michigan.”
While Harris is a private person when it comes to his recruitment, he has been somewhat open with the other Alabama commitments when it comes to what he’s going to do. Leatherwood said Harris never mentions Michigan unless he brings it up to him in conversation.
There’s not an ounce of worry from Leatherwood or Tagovailoa when it comes to Harris flipping. Michigan is viewed as the top contender for Harris’ services, but California and UCLA are still in the mix, too.
The Wolverines have two running backs in the Class of 2017, but that’s not going to play any factor in whether Harris chooses that school. The kid loves competing against the best. It’s one of the main reasons why he committed to Alabama in the first place.
I asked Michigan running back commitment Kurt Taylor what he thought of Harris potentially joining him in Ann Arbor in 2017.
“It’s always great to see when an athlete has an opportunity to go to his college of choice,” Taylor told SEC Country. “Michigan is a great school with great tradition, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that he likes Michigan. I felt the same way as well when I committed to Michigan.”
Taylor wasn’t sure of Harris’ plans and said the Michigan coaching staff has not notified him of the possibility of the 5-star talent joining the program.
Where Alabama has a significant advantage in Harris’ recruitment is just the length of time his relationship with the Tide staff stretches when you compare it to Michigan’s. It’s well known that Harris likes Jim Harbaugh, and some in his inner circle say he prefers him to Nick Saban, but no relationship competes with the one he has with Alabama outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi. Lupoi is from California and has connected with Harris, his mother, mentor and trainer going back to when the running back was in the eighth grade.
“Alabama has been in the picture before this kid became somebody,” a source told SEC Country earlier this week. “Everyone else came in after all of the hype started to surround him. People can get mad at Alabama all they want, but they were one of the first schools to believe in him.”
As I’ve stated for quite some time now, it’s going to be very hard to flip Harris away from Alabama, despite what you may read elsewhere about this being a 50-50 decision. The more people I talk to about where he stands in his recruitment, the more surprised I would be if he ends up going to Michigan or any other school.
In the end, the relationships Harris has established with the Alabama commits and coaches are going to be difficult to overcome for those schools still vying for the nation’s top recruit.
DeAngelo Gibbs’ father talks Alabama and Georgia
We’re 10 days away from finding out where the nation’s No. 3 safety is going to play college football. Will it be Alabama or Georgia, or will a surprise team win his recruitment in the end? We’ll find out at the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 1.
Before then, our Georgia reporter, Jeff Sentell, caught up with Gibbs’ father to get the latest on where things stand. Right before the dead period went into effect and before Gibbs and his Grayson High School teammates won the state championship, Nick Saban landed in a helicopter on their football field.
It made a big impression on Gibbs himself, but also his father.
“I thought it was impressive move to show that not only they wanted DeAngelo but they needed DeAngelo,” Deon Gibbs said. “Having a coach of his caliber show up at your school to reiterate how bad they need you made a very powerful statement.”
What does the family think about the opportunity at Alabama?
“If you play football, the real question is what is there not to like at Alabama?” Deon Gibbs rhetorically asked. “If that makes any sense to you. If you are a football player and you are of a certain caliber, then Alabama is going to have to be a school you are going to take a look at. The question is if it is a good fit for you.”
As Sentell notes in his story, which goes into more detail on the Georgia side of things, he feels like it’s a two-team race between the Tide and Bulldogs. I agree with his sentiments. I highly suggest reading that story in full here.
JaCoby Stevens flip talk is officially over
Alabama will not flip 5-star LSU safety commit JaCoby Stevens. There remained some hope after his commitment to the Tigers that the Tide would still find a way to get him to change his mind on attending his dream school, but that won’t be happening.
Stevens announced on Twitter on Wednesday night that he’s 1,000 percent committed to LSU, and he already has his jersey number chosen.
I'LL BE WEARING #3 At LSU NEXT YEAR!!! #GeauxTigers
1K% Committed To LSU!! ??? pic.twitter.com/vOMKDNtomS
— JaCoby Stevens (@jacobystevens7) December 22, 2016
I said earlier this week that once LSU announced a contract extension for defensive backs coach Corey Raymond that we could probably cross off Stevens as a potential flip target. With the tweet above, I think it’s safe to cross the safety off in Sharpie from the big board.
All rankings are provided by the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.
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