A furious race to the recruiting finish line of National Signing Day ensues this weekend. Programs are making their final pushes to land commitments from elite prospects, including five star safety Vonn Bell. The highly touted defensive back headlines the intriguing cast of top tier recruits whose signings are shrouded in mystery, with just days before letters of intent can officially be inked.
New Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has made a strong push for Bell in recent weeks, but is faced with the challenge of fending off Alabama. Nick Saban’s presence is a constant, as evident in the decisions each of the below five recruits face this week. Alabama is pursuing all of them.
Safety • Rossville, Ga.
Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio State
Rivals.com recently upgraded Bell to five star status, and perhaps the most intriguing recruiting push has since ensued. Bell would be the undisputed mantelpiece for Jones at Tennessee. To that end, Vol coaches have made the hard sell.
Tennessee’s potential foils are Ohio State, which Mike Farrell estimated could be Bell’s chosen destination, or SEC rival Alabama. Saban looms large, the omnipresent gatekeeper of upper echelon recruits in the Southeast.
Saban’s proven track record of developing NFL-ready defensive stars has to be appealing for a talent like Bell, who paid his official visit to Tuscaloosa in January. Reports indicate the visit went well.
With all of Bell’s officials now complete, Jones and staff turned their attention to Bell’s high school coaches, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.
Defensive Tackle • Placer, Calif.
USC, Notre Dame, Alabama UCLA
Another recent addition to the five star crop, Eddie Vanderdoes played an outstanding Army All-American Game not long after his decommitment from USC. The Trojans remain firmly in the mix — Michael Castillo of Reign Of Troy told me to bank on Vanderdoes becoming a Trojan — but Lane Kiffin has a pair of rivals to hold off. Notre Dame has come hard for Vanderdoes in the past month, and his commitment would solidify what is arguably the best class of 2013.
USC crosstown rival UCLA is putting together an impressive class late, and Jim Mora’s staff has reportedly pushed to land Vanderdoes. The Bruins seem to be in the background though, particularly with — you guessed it — Alabama coming on strong.
Running Back • Norcross, Ga.
The Alabama running back factory is already adding five star Florida prospect Derrick Henry, but Andy Staples details for Sports Illustrated that a prevailing attitude among elite prospects is learning through the team environment of Alabama is a rewarding long-term investment, even if it means sacrificing the stardom that might come elsewhere.
Kamara would be a decided second fiddle to Henry, at least initial. T.J. Yeldon is the likely feature back for 2013, but a newcomer could fill the role Yeldon had with Eddie Lacy, or that Lacy occupied behind Trent Richardson.
A similar proposition awaits Kamara if he’s to choose Georgia. Todd Gurley emerged as one of the top freshmen in college football a season ago, and figures to power the Bulldog running game once again in 2013. Fellow 2012 newcomer Keith Marshall was a key contributor early on, but his role diminished somewhat down the stretch.
Either way, Kamara is looking at likely being a No. 3 option in 2013, at best. The decision here is what offers him the best long-term plan.
Defensive Tackle • Muscle Shoals, Ala.
Alabama, Miami, Georgia
Alabama could earn more bragging rights over in-state rival Auburn if Saban completes the flip of Dee Liner. The highly touted in-state prospect was once a verbal commit to the Tigers, but Auburn is now out of play. The Crimson Tide stampeded into the front of the race, but Mark Richt and Georgia are hosting Liner on an official visit this weekend.
Miami recruited Liner, but reports indicate the Hurricanes have faded in that pursuit.
Linebacker • Auburn, Ala.
Auburn, Alabama, Georgia
Reuben Foster’s recruitment has come with much fanfare — mainly the result of an Auburn tattoo he received in the summer. Like Liner, the in-state prospect was once a Tiger verbal commit, but Foster backed out from his hometown pledge and since flirted with Alabama. Foster paid a visit to Tuscaloosa on Jan. 18.
Foster’s odd recruiting season has included a West Coast swing, but both San Diego State and Washington appear out of the running. Alabama and Auburn play out their Iron Bowl rivalry in these final days, with the latter hosting Foster today. Georgia is also in the mix.