- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
The stage was set. It was the 2012 Under Armour All-American Game. With his whole family behind him, ESPN 150 safety Landon Collins prepared to make his college decision in front of the entire country, on national television.
“I’m going to go with ‘Roll Tide Roll,’ ” Collins said as he put on the Crimson Tide gloves to signify where he was going to school.
The decision came as a surprise to most people, including his own mother, because Collins is a native of Louisiana. He opted to take the road less traveled and attend the school two states over rather than the one in his own backyard.
It was a big blow for LSU, but on a larger scale, it showed how far Nick Saban had come since taking over at Alabama.
Saban coached at LSU a decade earlier. He knew the lay of the land in Louisiana. When he first arrived at UA in 2007, he immediately returned to his old stomping grounds and plucked ESPN 150 defensive lineman Luther Davis, a former LSU commitment, out of the Bayou State.
Outside of Davis, the pickings in Louisiana were slim at first.
In Saban’s first year at Alabama, LSU won the national championship. With that, it was nearly impossible to come into the Tigers’ home state and take a recruit. Alabama tried in 2008 with Chris Tolliver and in 2009 with Rueben Randle and Barkevious Mingo -- but all three prospects stayed in state.
Of the three, losing Randle might have hurt Alabama the most. He was the top-ranked wide receiver in the country. He visited Tuscaloosa just weeks before signing day, and the Tide made a late push to land him. Still, he chose LSU.
But all was not lost. In that same recruiting class Saban snagged another wide receiver out of Louisiana, Kenny Bell. The lesser-known recruit flipped from LSU to Alabama on signing day, the same day Randle signed with the Tigers.
At the time, nobody knew his name, but now Bell has become the deep threat for AJ McCarron and the Tide’s offense.
It’s no surprise that winning on the field translates to success off of it. After Saban won his first national championship with Alabama in 2009, he started winning the recruiting battles against his SEC rivals, in particular LSU.
In 2011, Alabama once again reached into LSU’s home state and pulled ESPN 150 wide receiver Bradley Sylve out of Port Sulphur, La. They also beat out the Tigers for four-star athlete Jabriel Washington. Both Sylve and Washington are currently waiting their turn in the UA secondary.
Last year, UA signed linebacker Denzel Devall, a native of Bastrop, La. As a freshman, Devall has already cracked the linebacker rotation and even had a sack last weekend against Mississippi State.
Although Saban has won his fair share of recruiting battles over the years, none of them even came close to Collins and what came with his decision to choose the Tide.
He was the nation’s top safety, the No. 6 ranked player overall. He grew up in New Orleans but attended high school in Geismar, La., less than 30 minutes outside of Baton Rouge. LSU felt good all the way up to the Under Armour game when he put on the Alabama gloves.
To pour salt on the wound, the Tide dominated LSU in the BCS title game a week later.
As a freshman, Collins has really only made an impact on special teams, but there might not be a player on Alabama’s team more excited come Saturday in Death Valley.
6dSam Khan Jr.