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Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Roberts values his commitment to Bama

By Greg Ostendorf

OPELIKA, Ala. -- Taking visits to premier college football programs and being courted by the nation’s top head coaches sounds lavish, but when the time to make a decision finally comes, it’s never an easy choice. Determining the next three to four years of your life rarely is. Just ask Reuben Foster, who committed three times during his recruitment, or Matthew Thomas, who signed with Florida State in February but now wants out of his letter of intent because he feels like he gave his signature in haste.

Despite the trend toward halfhearted commitments, recent Alabama cornerback commit Stephen Roberts (Opelika, Ala./Opelika) is sticking by his pledge. To him, the process is finished and he isn’t planning on taking visits elsewhere.

Stephen Roberts
CB Stephen Roberts is taking an old-fashioned approach -- he's really committed.
Roberts grew up in Auburn’s backyard but chose to play football for the Crimson Tide before a visit with UA defensive coordinator Kirby Smart some two weeks ago. Even though it’s nine months from national signing day, he knows where he wants to stay true to the word he gave UA coach Nick Saban over the phone.

“When you commit to something, it means you’re committed,” Roberts said, taking what is becoming an increasingly old-fashioned approach in the recruiting world. “You don’t want to take any visits. Like my coach was telling me, he is committed to his wife, so he’s not going to be with no other wife.”

Call it a conservative approach, but Opelika head coach Brian Blackmon likes it that way. He wants his players to commit before the season if they know where they want to go. He doesn’t want any big hat ceremonies or anything like that -- just call the head coach, tell him you’re committed, and once you’re committed, that’s it.

“We’ve lost the value of what a real commitment is,” Blackmon said. “They either need to change the word of what these kids are doing or hold them to it.”

Saban, who is in his sixth decade as a football coach, has been on both sides of a decommitment, so it’s refreshing when a player has the mentality of a Stephen Roberts and sticks to his word.

“I get most of my excitement from when a guy makes a commitment, because we believe in commitments,” Saban said on national signing day. “Maybe we have some old-fashioned values, and most of the guys that commit really, really early, you almost expect that there may be some bumpy road ahead, because eventually the guy will probably want to go look someplace else or whatever, may decommit, which I don’t think is good for anybody.”

Some of Alabama's 25-man 2013 signing class continued the recruiting process after committing, and some didn't. Jonathan Allen was one who wouldn't allow himself to flip back and forth. The No. 3-ranked defensive end in the ESPN 150 could have flirted with other schools but didn't.

“Once [Alabama] offered, it was kind of a done deal for me,” Allen said. “I visited there, loved it, committed and really had no desire to visit any other schools. ... I really liked Florida, so we still had good relations. But I told them I was very serious about my commitment to Alabama, and other than a coaching change, there was nothing going to change my mind.”

For ArDarius Stewart (Fultondale, Ala./Fultondale), who was recruited by the likes of Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia and LSU after he committed, he didn't want to make the decision any harder on himself.

“I didn’t want to go through it and be confused,” Stewart said. “I went to one college. I saw what I want from that one college, so I didn’t think I needed to see anything else.”

Alabama still allows its commitments to take visits to other schools, because coaches say there always can be extenuating circumstances, and they believe recruits should enjoy the process. But when they land a player like Roberts, it's always easier. There are fewer sleepless nights when you know a decision is final.

"They started smiling. They were real happy," Roberts said of the Alabama staff's reaction to his commitment.

"Bottom line is I think there has to be a level of integrity and honesty with the kids and the coaches," Blackmon said. "They’ve got to have a mutual respect for each other where they can feel comfortable enough to say, here’s where I am, what I’m doing and why I’m doing it that way."