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.
Chris Henderson can see himself at Alabama
The timing of Chris Henderson’s visit to Alabama could not have been any better for the Crimson Tide.
Just a few hours prior to Henderson’s arrival, Marlon Humphrey declared for the NFL Draft. That gave Alabama the perfect opportunity to sell the 4-star defensive back from Miami on the program as he made an official visit to Tuscaloosa this past weekend.
Henderson told SEC Country that he got to speak to Humphrey for “a while” on Saturday where the potential first-round pick told the recruit about how Alabama helped prepare him for an NFL career. He also told him how he should expect to pour everything he had into practice if he ended up choosing Alabama.
“It means a lot to hear that from a player instead of a coach,” Henderson said. “I feel like the players will tell you the truth about how their time at the school was. He just told me to come in and get ready to work, just like what he and Minkah (Fitzpatrick) did their freshman year.”
The coaching staff made sure to tell Henderson and his family multiple times throughout the weekend how the loss of Humphrey could mean that he could immediately come in and take the empty spot on the depth chart.
Before the visit, Henderson admitted that he didn’t think the opportunity to come in and play right away was high. He doesn’t think that anymore after talking to Humphrey, coach Nick Saban and defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley.
“It changes things for Alabama a lot,” Henderson said of Humphrey’s departure. “Now, they’re pretty high on my list. I just didn’t expect my visit to be as top notch as it was. I also didn’t realize how big of an opportunity I have to come in and play early.”
Former offensive line coach Mario Cristobal was Henderson’s primary recruiter before he left for the Oregon offensive coordinator job, but Henderson said his departure doesn’t change anything for Alabama’s chances at landing him.
He believes the coaches they have in Tuscaloosa are fully capable of getting him to where Humphrey is as he leaves the program.
“I know they can develop me for the next level,” Henderson said.
Does he feel that way about Florida and Miami, which are his other top schools?
“Yeah, I do, but not everybody can play defensive back at Alabama,” Henderson said.
Henderson had a chance to hang out with several of Alabama’s early enrollees while he was in Tuscaloosa this past weekend. He had a chance to eat with Tua Tagovailoa, Najee Harris, Alex Leatherwood and Jerry Jeudy.
They didn’t pressure him to join them at Alabama. Instead, they told him about their first few days at Alabama and how they’re already preparing for the 2017 season. They did make sure to tell him how hard the workouts have been and how they’re already seeing their bodies transform in the week that they’ve been on campus.
Henderson maintains his top 3 of Alabama, Florida and Miami, but it appears to be an SEC battle as of now. He said “it’s really close between Alabama and Florida.” The 6-foot-1, 175-pound prospect will be in Gainesville next weekend for an official visit.
Alabama set the bar high for Florida next weekend. Henderson said there wasn’t one bad thing he could say about his visit to Alabama.
“I feel like I can see myself (at Alabama),” Henderson said. “The atmosphere was great. I saw how great the people there were. I got to talk to Marlon and he told me how great the school was to him. The coaches made me feel like I was needed and just talked to me like I was family. They really welcomed me in with open arms.
“I feel like Alabama did everything it could and they can’t get any higher now.”
The Under Armour All-American is the only cornerback Alabama is pursuing in the Class of 2017. The Tide have a commitment from junior college cornerback Jhavonte Dean but don’t expect him to end up in the class when signing day rolls around.
About Jhavonte Dean …
Dean took an official visit to Miami this past weekend — the school where I believe ultimately he’ll enroll. He left that visit still committed to the Crimson Tide. I thought a flip to the Hurricanes was likely, but he told SEC Country that wasn’t on his mind.
“I wasn’t planning on flipping my commitment,” Dean said.
So, what’s the deal with Dean? I really don’t know. He hasn’t visited Tuscaloosa since he committed to Alabama in July and still hasn’t set an official visit, even though signing day is in two weeks.
Even though he didn’t flip his commitment this past weekend, I still expect it to happen at some point over the next two weeks. Multiple sources close to the Alabama program have told SEC Country that they don’t expect Dean to ink with the Tide and they expect it to be a mutual parting of ways.
Sunday’s de-commitment out of nowhere
I was expecting a de-commitment on Sunday (Dean), and instead, a different Alabama commit backed off his pledge to the Tide.
Brandon Ruiz, the nation’s No. 2 kicker from Williams Field High School (Gilbert, Ariz.), seemingly out of nowhere backed off his commitment to Alabama. This comes after Ruiz told reporters in San Antonio less than two weeks ago at the Army Bowl that his recruitment was over and Alabama was going to be the school he represented. That’s not happening now.
Ruiz, according to a source close to Alabama, decided to de-commit because he wants to stay closer to home. Arizona State is his likely destination now. It’s not the first time Ruiz backed out of leaving home for another school. He was close to leaving Arizona to play at national powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas but backed out because he didn’t want to leave home.
Though he’s only a kicker, this de-commitment serves as a big blow to Alabama’s recruiting class. Ruiz was the only kicker Alabama was recruiting and now it’s left without one with just two weeks until signing day. This is the second year in a row that Alabama has lost one of the nation’s top kickers late in the recruiting process. Eddy Pineiro flipped to Florida last year.
A source close to Alabama said the team is going to look for another kicker in the Class of 2017 but will not offer a specialist a scholarship unless he is “great.” A preferred walk-on offer is the likeliest option for Alabama now that Ruiz is out of the picture.
If the Tide go the preferred walk-on route, that gives Alabama one more scholarship to use for a potential extra defensive lineman or wherever the team sees fit. As it has been written countless times on this website, numbers are very tight in Alabama’s class with the Tide already having 25 commitments and outstanding needs still needing to be filled.
In my latest class projection, I have Alabama signing 28 recruits and only three defensive linemen. Ruiz’s de-commitment now gives Alabama the luxury of signing an extra defensive lineman. Perhaps that guarantees a spot for 4-star defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis, who is down to Alabama and LSU, if he wants in. The open spot could also make sure Alabama has room for 4-star wide receivers Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith, no matter what.
The loss of Ruiz is a big one — there’s no way to sugarcoat it. Alabama has only one kicker on its roster heading into 2017, and Andy Pappanastos has only made one field goal in a game since 2012. But Ruiz’s departure could mean Alabama lucked its way into signing another highly rated player who it may have had to pass on because numbers are just so tight.
All rankings are provided by the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.
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