MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. -- Despite a controversial start to the season, ESPN 150 defensive lineman Dee Liner has shaped up both on the field and off the field for a Muscle Shoals team that, with a win on Thursday, finished the regular season undefeated for the first time in school history.
Now, the Titans head into the playoffs as the No. 1 team in the state in Class 5A.
“We have a big target on our back,” Liner said. “We’re No. 1. We just beat a big school like Bob Jones. We have a big target on our back, so we have to keep working hard and look over that.”
With so much at stake in his senior season, Liner has put recruiting on the back burner. Really, he’s taken it out of the kitchen altogether. The Auburn commitment, ranked No. 8 overall in the ESPN 150, won’t say a word about recruiting.
“I’m not talking about college,” Liner said. “I’m just focused on my season right now.”
But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought about it, and with what’s going on at Auburn this year, other schools haven’t stopped pursuing the Alabama native either.
“It doesn’t slow down,” Muscle Shoals head coach Scott Basden said. “I think everybody knows that they’re dealing with young men. Nothing’s ever solid until they’re signed on the dotted line. You can look in the past at kids going here, going there, and then all of a sudden, they don’t go either place.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the school coming the hardest is Auburn’s in-state rival, the University of Alabama, and the Crimson Tide’s season has gone in the opposite direction of the Tigers. Liner visited Tuscaloosa last month for the Mississippi State game.
But, despite all of the attention from both Alabama and Auburn, Liner’s coach has tried to keep his star player focused on football and winning a state championship.
“We’re in the state of Alabama,” Basden said. “I’ve got a whole lot of respect for Coach [Gene] Chizik, and I’ve got a whole lot of respect for Coach [Nick] Saban.
“It’s not a cliche. We’re trying to win a state championship. College comes next year, and that’s what we’re really focused on. It’s not about what one team’s doing and what another team’s doing outside of Muscle Shoals.”
After the season, Liner plans to sit down with his head coach and discuss the future. He’s set to play in the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 4, and he knows he has to sign his letter of intent by Feb. 6.
For now, he’s keeping his focus on his team and his season.
“I think he shows a lot of maturity in doing that,” Basden said. “To be honest, that’s what makes him special. He’s a very unique individual in that he can do that. He’s not a selfish person by any means. I’m blessed to coach him and have him around.”
In the regular-season finale, Liner finished with eight tackles, including two for a loss. This Friday, Muscle Shoals opens the first round of the playoffs at home against Boaz.