College football recruiting is a dirty business. Anybody who thought the early signing period enacted last month was going to make it less so wasn’t paying attention.
Just last week, St. Paul’s Episcopal defensive back Jalyn Armour-Davis was named the No. 1 recruit in the state of Alabama for the 2018 class, overtaking Central-Phenix City wide receiver Justin Ross, who had held that distinction for more than two years.
While Ross did not take advantage of the early signing period and will therefore sign with the college of his choice on the first Wednesday of February, Armour-Davis’ recruitment is already over. He followed through on his longtime commitment to Alabama and brought his recruitment to an end in the days after winning a state championship and before Christmas.
That’s the benefit of the early signing period that proponents always tout.
The same case could be made for Saraland quarterback Jack West and Mobile Christian defensive end Andres Fox, both of whom have already signed with Stanford.
There’s certainly no way Armour-Davis’ decision to sign with Alabama is a bad one. Every player who has signed with Alabama and stayed at least three years since Nick Saban arrived has won at least one national championship. Plus, it’s well documented that Saban himself takes an active role in coaching the Alabama defensive.
New Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt used to be Saban’s defensive backs coach. But to hear him tell it, it was in name only.
“I was the defensive backs coach at Alabama,” Pruitt said in his acceptance speech for winning the Broyles Award as the country’s best assistant coach. “And everybody in the country knows who the DB coach in Alabama is, and that’s Nick Saban.”
So, Armour-Davis made a good decision. But because of the early signing period, he did not make a completely informed decision.
When he signed with the Tide, Alabama’s defensive backs coach was Derrick Ansley. Today, Ansley is a member of Jon Gruden’s staff with the Oakland Raiders.
When he signed with the Tide he had never met — and likely never heard of — Pete Golding from the University of Texas-San Antonio or Karl Scott of Louisiana-Lafayette. Now those two men are listed as Alabama’s defensive backs coaches.
Again, there’s every reason to believe Armour-Davis will be a success on and off the field. But it makes no sense to take away valuable information that every recruit in the country factors into which school they will choose — that is, which assistant coach he will be in contact with most.
Saban has certainly not softened his stance on the issue.
“I didn’t like it when we did it. I don’t like it now,” Saban told USA Today following the initial early signing period. “I don’t think it’s in the players’ best interest. I don’t see how it benefits anybody. I think it’s really stressful for everyone. We’re all trying to get ready for bowl games and playoff games and we have a signing day right in the middle of when we’re going to be practicing for a playoff game. It was very stressful for a lot of guys to get out and see as many guys as they could in December and accelerate everything.”
On the other end of the recruiting spectrum is Williamson High School defensive back Roger McCreary. The senior was committed to South Alabama for almost a year and likely would have signed with the Jaguars if not for some strong late interest from Auburn.
So, McCreary backed off and decided to take more time to explore all his options.
If you look at this situation through the eyes of a South Alabama Jaguars fan, it’s easy to understand why there would be excitement for signing a potentially great player before the larger schools took notice.
I would also love to see some of our best local players stay home to play. But, again, it’s about choices and having all the information possible to make the best decision for each player.
Whether Auburn or any other Power 5 team will ultimately use one of their precious scholarships on McCreary remains to be seen.
But with the looming early signing period it was necessary to do something to keep him on the line in case that turns out to be the ultimate decision.
So they extended a scholarship offer, knowing full well that they could change their mind if they decided to go a difference direction.
Where would that leave McCreary? The answer is as unfortunate as it is predictable. Nobody factored that into the decision.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.