- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When you grow up in the state of Alabama, it’s either ‘Roll Tide’ or ‘War Eagle.’ There is no in between.
For recruits, it’s not that simple.
During the last century, Alabama and Auburn have waged war both on the football field and in recruiting, but the latter has increased dramatically in the last three years alone. It’s taken the rivalry to a whole new level.
The landscape of recruiting in Alabama changed the day Nick Saban took over as coach of the Crimson Tide. He instantly made it a point of emphasis to keep the top prospects in state, and he found early success with that.
In Saban’s first two recruiting classes, he signed 11 ESPN 150 recruits from the Yellowhammer State. The list includes former UA stars Julio Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and Courtney Upshaw, as well as current players D.J. Fluker, Nico Johnson and AJ McCarron.
Despite Tommy Tuberville’s success at Auburn and his record against Alabama, the Tigers let him go in part because he couldn’t keep up with Saban in the recruiting world. AU wanted a coach and a staff who could recruit and start winning some of the in-state battles against the Tide.
Enter Gene Chizik.
The current Auburn coach assembled a staff known for their recruiting prowess, and the results have been evident. In 2010, the Tigers finished with the No. 4 class in the nation on ESPN, just one spot behind Alabama.
In that first class, they signed two of the state’s top players, linebacker LaDarius Owens and wide receiver Jeremy Richardson. They also flipped three-star defensive end Craig Sanders from the Tide to the Tigers.
However, it was Alabama who came out on top once again come signing day, finishing just one spot ahead for the second year in a row. The difference -- ESPN 150 stars Brent Calloway and Cyrus Kouandjio.
Calloway originally committed to UA before he flipped to Auburn at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. But in a crazy turn of events, Calloway changed his commitment back to Alabama and ultimately signed with the Tide.
It was even more of a wild ride for Kouandjio, the nation’s No. 1 offensive tackle. On signing day, he chose the Tigers on national television but never signed the papers. Three days later, he had a change of heart and signed with Alabama, joining his brother in Tuscaloosa.
The drama continued last year with ESPN 150 running back T.J. Yeldon.
Yeldon, the state’s top running back, committed to Auburn in June of 2011, but after his senior season, he flipped his commitment from the Tigers to the Tide. The decision nearly caused a riot among the two fan bases.
Now, the freshman running back has 809 yards and nine touchdowns on 121 carries for the Tide. He also scored the game-winning touchdown against LSU earlier this month.
In the 2013 class, Auburn has commitments from the state’s top two players, defensive tackle Dee Liner and linebacker Reuben Foster. The Tigers already have landed four of the top eight players in the state and seven overall.
However, we’re still two months away from signing day, and given the recent history and Chizik’s future in question, it could be an intriguing couple of months.
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