Alabama Crimson Tide: Jason Smith

MOBILE, Ala. -- Nearly in the middle of the Florida and Mississippi borders is Mobile, Ala., a port city whose founding can be traced back to French settlers in the early 1700s. Its roots, in other words, run deep. As does the richness of its soil, both in the figurative and literal sense. Football players are born here. Today, the seaside territory of South Alabama and its epicenter, Mobile, represent the key to the recruiting success of many of the top programs in the country.

The Crimson Tide wouldn't have won consecutive championships without holding sway over the region. Though the area lies well below sea level, South Alabama represents the territorial high ground for Nick Saban and the University of Alabama.

Xzavier Dickson, Lance Thompson
Alex Scarborough/ESPN.comAlabama coach Lance Thompson has long been a recruiting commodity in Mobile.
When Saban arrived at Alabama in 2006, he came in with a plan to first win back Mobile, then the state, and then the country. Looking up and down the roster he inherited from Mike Shula, Saban was struck by the lack of players from South Alabama.

In his first year at UA, Saban sent his best recruiter, assistant coach Lance Thompson, to the area. Thompson helped gain the commitments of three of the top prospects in the region: Foley High star wideout Julio Jones, St. Paul's stud safety Mark Barron and Vigor High super athlete B.J. Scott. Jones and Barron would become All-Americans at Alabama before being taken in first round of the NFL draft. Even Scott, who wound up transferring back home to the University of South Alabama, was signed by the Chicago Bears in late April.

Fast-forward to the present and all three of Alabama's most valuable players -- quarterback AJ McCarron, linebacker C.J. Mosley and running back T.J. Yeldon -- are all from within earshot of Mobile. Right tackle D.J. Fluker of Foley would have been a senior this season had he not entered the NFL draft in April.

"When we came to Alabama we only had one player, Wallace Gilberry, from this area on our team," Saban said at a speaking engagement in the area last week. "Now we have anywhere from 13-15 (players) pretty consistently. We've had, I think, three first-round draft picks from this area, and probably a couple more guys on the team who could be first-round draft picks in the future.

"There's great (high school) programs here and we certainly want to do a great job in our state in terms of recruiting and it just seems that historically there's been a lot of great players from this area. We certainly feel fortunate that we've been able to get some of those players to come to Alabama and it's made a huge difference in the success of our program."

After the top prospect from Mobile signed with Arkansas in 2006 and then Auburn in 2007, the tables turned. Alabama took over and signed the highest-rated recruit from the city all but one time from 2008-11.

But what's happened in the years since shows how other schools have taken notice. Chris Casher, the top prospect from the city in 2012, signed with Florida State. And Jason Smith, a four-star athlete from McGill-Toolen High, signed with Auburn this February.

Alabama's grip on South Alabama hasn't loosened, but the pull from programs like FSU, Auburn and others has grown stronger, thanks mainly to shifts in the recruiters charged with scouting the area in the past six months. Dameyune Craig, who made a name for himself as a recruiter on the FSU staff, was hired by Auburn’s new head coach Gus Malzahn in January; Jeremy Pruitt, who made a name for himself as an assistant coach at Alabama, took the defensive coordinator job for the Seminoles in December; and Thompson, who returned to Alabama last year after a stint at Tennessee, shifted his territory back to where he started in Mobile. The trio is some of the best in the business, and they're all spending much of their time in the same area.

"They’re all great guys," Vigor High coach Ashley Johnson said. "...They’re great with the kids, interacting with them when they’re able to interact with them. They really, really learn them. They don’t forget a name, a face. They are really good at what they do."

ESPN 150 defensive end Justin Thornton stars at Vigor and has been recruited heavily by all three schools since before his junior season. The four-star prospect recently committed to Auburn, thanks in large part to the connection Craig was able to form.

"When Justin Thornton’s mom just had a baby, Dameyune Craig’s buzzing me. ‘Tell Justin I’m excited,'" said Johnson, marveling at how quickly the coach acted on the news. "They are up and on the know. I don’t know when they sleep."

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Daily Dozen: Alabama-Mississippi game 

December, 11, 2012
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The first day of practice for the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game kicked off on Tuesday, and the Alabama squad showed off its strength at the skill positions as well as on the defensive line. The game is on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Johnson
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comQB Jeremy Johnson was impressive on the first day of practice for the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game.
QB Jeremy Johnson
Mongtomery, Ala./Carver
Committed to Auburn

Weekend Rewind: Alabama 

November, 26, 2012
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama’s 49-0 drubbing of Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Saturday was the last domino to fall before Gene Chizik was fired as head coach of the Tigers. Now the Crimson Tide are looking to poach some of AU’s top recruits.

Over the weekend, Alabama hosted a number of Auburn commitments including defensive tackle Dee Liner, the state’s top-ranked player, ESPN 300 wide receiver Earnest Robinson and four-star athlete Jason Smith.

“It was fun,” Smith said of his visit. “I came in for the game with my parents. The atmosphere was crazy. Whenever you come to a big rivalry game like that, it’s going to be packed out, and the excitement of that game is crazy. It was great. I liked it.”

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ATH Smith watching Auburn's next move 

November, 25, 2012
Four-star athlete Jason Smith (Mobile, Ala./McGill-Toolen) committed to Auburn in July, but had been preparing for the worst as rumors became reality Sunday with the firing of Tigers head coach Gene Chizik.

“I liked the coaches and everything, and I’m always going to love Auburn. I’m looking forward to see who’s going to be the new head coach. I just want to see who the next coach is and if he’s going to run a similar offense. If it’s anything that fits around me, I’m going to stick with it.”

In the meantime, Smith says he’s still hearing from Alabama, Arkansas, Arkansas State, Houston, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Over the weekend, he took an unofficial visit to Alabama as the Crimson Tide took on Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

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The high school football season got underway this weekend in the state of Alabama, and although it was just a jamboree game, Saturday’s matchup between McGill-Toolen and Northridge featured two of the top teams in the state.

McGill-Toolen cruised to an easy 27-0 win, but the best player on the field was Northridge running back Bo Scarbrough. The 2014 prospect rushed for 98 yards on 10 carries in the first half alone.

McGill-Toolen High School

After Scarbrough broke the first carry of the game for 50 yards, McGill-Toolen’s defense clamped down. For a team known for its offensive weapons, it was the Yellow Jackets defense who looked most impressive on a Saturday night. Anchored by safety Jalen Square, an Arkansas State commitment, the defense made a series of big hits and didn’t miss hardly any tackles the whole game. The offense, led by Auburn commitment Jason Smith, had its moments. Smith looked nervous early but still finished 3-of-4 for 60 yards and a touchdown passing, and he added 55 yards on nine carries rushing. Listed as an athlete, Smith hopes to play quarterback at Auburn, but he looks more like a wide receiver or cornerback at the next level. His lone touchdown pass went to Arkansas State commitment Carl Lee for 14 yards. The offense will go as Smith goes, but the defense looked strong enough to carry McGill-Toolen to a solid season and a shot at a state title.

Northridge High School

All eyes were on Scarbrough on Saturday night. The junior running back, considered one of the top recruits nationally, is coming off a torn ACL and wanted to prove to everybody that he was healthy. On the first carry he took off around the right side for 50 yards, and it was clear he was back. After the opening run, he had nine carres for 48 yards, a solid performance but not spectacular. Scarbrough showed the strength and the nasty stiff arm at times but never really broke the big run he’s capable of. He missed a few plays in the second quarter after injuring his hand on a stiff arm to the opponent’s helmet. As long as he stays healthy, the Northride running back will be easily be one of the best backs in the state this year. Wide receiver James Cox, committed to Southern Miss., had a less than impressive day, but it looked more like an issue with the quarterback. If Northridge hopes to contend this year, it needs to give Scarbrough the ball early and often and get Cox more involved in the game.

2013 Breakdown: Quarterbacks 

April, 30, 2012
When sophomore quarterback Phillip Sims decided to transfer from the University of Alabama over the weekend, it created a need at the position for 2013, but it also presented an opportunity for the quarterbacks in the class. The Crimson Tide had already talked about the possibility of taking two signal callers this year, and with Sims leaving, it almost becomes a necessity now. Alabama has a bevy of targets from across the country who have been invited to throw in front of the staff at the Tide’s camp in June. Some already have offers. Others are hoping to earn an offer. After the camp, UA should have a better idea of which quarterbacks they want and which quarterbacks they might get in this year’s class.

Cooper Bateman - Salt Lake City, Utah

When the Alabama’s top two quarterback targets, Max Browne and Christian Hackenberg, came off the board, Bateman seemed like the next best choice for the Crimson Tide. The ESPN 150 signal caller from Utah has good size at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, and possesses a strong, accurate throwing arm. Bateman visited Tuscaloosa in early April as part of an SEC tour that also included stops at Auburn, Florida and LSU. He plans to return to UA for the Tide’s camp in June when he can throw in front of the coaching staff.

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High school teammates looking at Tide 

March, 13, 2012
Doug NussmeierStephen Brashear/Icon SMIFormer Washington offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who is in his first season at Alabama, might coach high school teammates Carl Lee and Jason Smith in 2013.

MOBILE, Ala. -- The relationship began as a rivalry.

In middle school, Jason Smith and Carl Lee each played quarterback for opposing teams in different divisions. The two faced each other only when it was for the championship, and it looked destined to be that way through high school and beyond.

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ATH Smith gets offer to play QB 

February, 19, 2012
The University of Alabama’s search for a quarterback continues, and a new name popped up on Saturday when the Crimson Tide offered Mobile, Ala., athlete Jason Smith during his visit for junior day.

Smith, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound prospect, played quarterback for McGill Toolen High School last year, but many felt he would end up at wide receiver or defensive back at the next level. But UA head coach Nick Saban made it clear that he likes Smith to start out as a quarterback.

“It felt good just to sit down and talk with the man,” Smith said. “He told me I could come in and play quarterback, and that’s what I wanted to come in as. He was just saying that I’m a great athlete and I have talent."

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Scout's Take: Atlanta Opening Regional
National recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to discuss top performers from the Nike's The Opening regional camp in Atlanta.