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Recruiting battles: Tennessee vs. Alabama

10/16/2012

When Nick Saban arrived at the University of Alabama in 2007, he made it a point of emphasis to recruit the state of Tennessee and take what recruits he could away from the rival Volunteers. It didn’t take long to make his presence felt.

In 2008, his first full recruiting class, Saban signed three Tennessee natives -- linebackers Don'ta Hightower and Chris Jordan and offensive lineman Barrett Jones.

Hightower now plays for the New England Patriots. Jones, who won the Outland Trophy a year ago, is expected to hear his name called in next year’s NFL draft, and Jordan battled several injuries but still made a contribution both on special teams and as a backup.

Since that first class, Alabama hasn’t had quite the same success in Tennessee, but current Crimson Tide players Brandon Ivory, Harrison Jones, Carson Tinker and Jabriel Washington all hail from the Volunteer State.

Saban hasn’t won every recruiting battle in Tennessee, though, and he certainly hasn’t won every battle against the Tide’s SEC rival.

In 2009, the Volunteers hired Lane Kiffin to replace long-time head coach Phillip Fulmer, and he didn’t waste any time with recruiting. In his lone season with Tennessee, Kiffin put together the No. 15 class nationally on ESPN.com.

The class included ESPN 150 defensive backs Janzen Jackson and Darren Myles Jr., both Tide targets, and in-state athlete Marsalis Teague, who visited Tuscaloosa, Ala., before choosing Tennessee. Teague, now a backup cornerback for the Vols, is the only one of the three still on the team.

Even when Kiffin bolted for USC and Derek Dooley took over, Tennessee still had some success against Alabama, especially in Dooley’s first year.

Ja'Wuan James, the nation’s No. 2 offensive tackle in 2010, originally committed to the Tide but wound up signing with Tennessee. The Vols also landed James Stone, another ESPN 150 offensive tackle, who chose UT over Alabama. Both James and Stone are expected to start in Saturday’s game.

Last year, Tennessee signed a pair of former UA defensive line targets, Daniel McCullers and Danny O’Brien. The Vols also landed junior college defensive tackle Darrington Sentimore, who signed with Alabama out of high school and spent two years with the Tide.

It’s been a different story in 2013.

In possiblty the biggest recruiting battle between Dooley and Saban to date, ESPN 150 running back Derrick Henry (Yulee, Fla.) had narrowed his list to Alabama and Tennessee. After visiting both schools in September, Henry ultimately chose the Tide.

This weekend, ESPN 150 safety Vonn Bell (Rossville, Ga./Ridgeland) and Florida State commitment Marquez White (Dothan, Ala./Northview) plan to visit Knoxville for the Alabama game. Both prospects have Alabama and Tennessee among their finalists.

Although he hasn’t won every battle, Saban has enjoyed far better success on the recruiting trail than any of the UT coaches he’s gone up against. Dooley is hoping to change that this year by stealing a recruit such as Bell or White from the Tide.

His job might depend on it.