The focus this weekend was just supposed to be on how some of Alabama’s top targets fared at Nike’s “The Opening” regional camp in Atlanta.
Several of those targets solidified their status as some of the top players in high school football — WR target Nico Collins, LB targets Markail Benton, Willie Gay and DE target LaBryan Ray are all headed to Nike’s headquarters in Oregon to compete in “The Opening” finals. Linebacker target K.J. Britt was named the top linebacker of the competition, too.
But the news of the weekend came late Sunday night when Alabama picked up its seventh commitment in the Class of 2017. Let’s get to the news from this weekend.
Gary Johnson hasn’t visited Alabama in a few years, but that didn’t stop him from committing to the school Sunday night.
The four-star junior college linebacker from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College became Alabama’s first linebacker commit in the Class of 2017. Johnson told SEC Country that Alabama views him as an inside linebacker. He also said the coaching staff has compared him to one of Alabama’s best linebackers in school history.
“C.J. Mosley was one of my favorite players at one point in time,” Johnson said. “It shows me that they have big plans for me. For the coaching staff to think of me as one of those types of players like Mosley was, they feel like I can play a big role in Alabama’s defense.”
Alabama’s depth at linebacker is thin, and because of Johnson’s experience in the junior college ranks, he could become an immediate starter next season, especially if he puts up a stat line like this one again: 133 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two touchdowns in his first season at Dodge City.
Johnson played his high school football at Douglas (Ala.) High School and grew up wanting to play for the Crimson Tide. He gave the news of his commitment to Nick Saban and wide receivers coach Billy Napier on Sunday.
“I was excited and nervous at the same time because that’s my dream school,” Johnson said of what he felt when making that phone call to Alabama. “It really is a blessing to have them offer me knowing that they don’t really offer JUCO players. For them to give me this opportunity, it’s incredible.”
The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder is rated as the nation’s No. 1 junior college prospect, according to 247Sports. He’ll have two years of eligibility remaining, plus a redshirt year if Alabama elects to use it.
You may already know that Alabama has a commitment from the nation’s top running back and No. 1 overall recruit in Najee Harris, but you may not know that the Crimson Tide has a commitment from another top running back.
Brian Robinson plays high school football less than 10 miles away from Bryant-Denny Stadium — his future home.
SEC Country caught up with Robinson at “The Opening” regional this weekend and he told us that it’s going to be hard for any school to flip him from his pledge to the Crimson Tide.
“It’s going to be very hard to change my mind on my decision,” Robinson said. “I’m a very strong commit to the University of Alabama.”
Robinson, a four-star running back from Hillcrest High School (Tuscaloosa, Ala.), says he’s loved Alabama his whole life, mainly because of the short distance to the football facilities. He called getting an offer from the Tide a “dream.”
“It’s one of the best feelings I possibly could ever have to get an offer from my dream school,” Robinson said. “I can’t ask for a better feeling.”
Just because he’s committed to Alabama though, don’t expect him to stop visiting other schools. Robinson visited Georgia this past weekend and loved it. He said Alabama and Georgia are definitely going to get official visits when that time comes.
Robert Beal has visited three schools since de-committing from Notre Dame in February — Alabama, Georgia and Florida State.
The state of Georgia’s No. 3 overall prospect admits that there’s something special with the Crimson Tide.
“Alabama does everything different there than everyone else,” he said. “From the players to the coaches and the way they feed the players.”
In order for Alabama to sign Beal though, his sister will need to be admitted into the school. His sister was denied admittance into Notre Dame, which is why he decided to back off his pledge to the Fighting Irish.
“If (the schools) can’t take her, then I won’t be there,” Beal told DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell at Nike’s “The Opening” regional camp in Atlanta.
Netori Johnson was once committed to Alabama, but the last time he visited Tuscaloosa, which was for the start of spring practice, the vibe was different. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
When Johnson was committed to Alabama, offensive line coach Mario Cristobal was the staff member he connected the most with, mainly because Cristobal was going to be his position coach. Now he won’t be if Johnson were to recommit.
“I had to get to know Coach (Brent) Key, which is the centers and guards coach,” Johnson said of what he needed to get done on his visit to Alabama on March 11. “If I did attend Alabama, that would be my coach. Coach (Mario) Cristobal was going to be my coach when I was committed, but now he’s the tackles and tight ends coach, so it’s a little different.”
When Johnson de-committed from Alabama last month, he made it clear that the Crimson Tide were still his No. 1 school. That’s not the case anymore because of the recent top-10 list he dropped a few days ago.
The 6-foot-5, 330-pounder says every school in his top 10 list has an equal chance of getting his commitment, but Alabama, Auburn and Georgia look to be in the best position when that time comes of making a decision.
All rankings are provided by the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.
Chris Kirschner covers Alabama football recruiting for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play in Bryant-Denny.