Alabama Crimson Tide: Justin Thornton

Best SEC recruiters 

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
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Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.

It's no secret that Southeastern Conference has been the top conference in the country as far as recruiting over the last several years. The league currently has six teams ranked in the top 11 of the team recruiting rankings. Here's a look at the top 10 recruiters around the ultra-competitive conference.

SEC recruiting mailbag

August, 9, 2013
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It’s time to dip into the SEC recruiting mailbag and answer your questions. Because of the amount of questions we’ve received, we won’t be able to get to all of them today -- but we encourage you to ask again next week by tweeting your questions to @DerekTysonESPN.

@cpage2911: who are the top SEC assistant coaches recruiting wise?

Derek Tyson: As evident by having 10 SEC schools ranked in the top 25 of the Recruiting Nation class rankings, the SEC is full of recruiting savvy coaches. The list is long and full of quality coaches, and I could make a case for a number of SEC coaches, but here's a glance at three coaches who stand out to me this year.

Auburn co-offensive coordinator Dameyune Craig is responsible for Auburn landing commits from five ESPN 300 members including Tre' Williams, Nicholas Ruffin, Justin Thornton, Kamryn Pettway and Stanton Truitt. Florida defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson is the primary recruiter for four committed ESPN 300 prospects -- Dalvin Cook, Khairi Clark, J.C. Jackson and Duke Dawson. He is also the primary recruiter for ESPN 300 prospects Ermon Lane and Quincy Wilson, who the Gators have a shot of landing on Monday.

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart continues to be an outstanding recruiter and has helped the Tide stand firm in the top five of the class rankings. Smart is the primary recruiter for ESPN 300 committed players Kalvaraz Bessent, Stephen Roberts, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Zach Whitley.

@SleeperAthletes: Out of all the #SEC states, which state is most heavily recruited?

DT: As far as sheer numbers, Florida is always one of the most heavily recruited areas in the country. In fact, 17 percent (52) of the prospects ranked in the ESPN 300 are from the state of Florida. Texas is the next state in SEC territory with 34 players on the ESPN 300 followed by Georgia with 29 players.

Louisiana might not have the total number of prospects as Florida, Texas and Georgia, but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in quality. Three of the top 10 players in the country including the No. 1 overall prospect, Leonard Fournette, and eight of the top 50 players in the country are from Louisiana.

SECfan: Will an SEC team take home the recruiting championship again?

DT: Five of the top 10 recruiting classes are from the SEC including three -- Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia in the top five. When it's all said and done, though, I believe it will be a battle between Alabama and LSU. Alabama is at No. 2 while LSU is at No. 10, and with several key targets still available LSU could certainly jump to the top.

Louisiana natives and top 10 players including Fournette, Cameron Robinson and Speedy Noil are high on the Tigers. Linebacker Clifton Garrett, wide receivers Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre, safety Laurence Jones and defensive tackle Gerald Willis III are just some of the top prospects considering LSU and the Tigers could end up with a monster class. Alabama, however, is still very much in contention for both Fournette and Robinson which could quickly cement the Tide as the top overall class. Bottom line is, yes, I believe the SEC will land the No. 1 recruiting class for the third straight year.
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."

(Read full post)

Official Visit: Thomas’ trouble; AU heats up

May, 8, 2013
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NoleNation’s Corey Dowlar talks with Phil Murphy about the latest in Florida State 2013 signee Matthew Thomas' saga, and TideNation's Greg Ostendorf stops by to talk about the impending decisions of ESPN 150 recruits Tre’ Williams and Justin Thornton.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- ESPN Watch List defensive Justin Thornton (Mobile, Ala./Vigor) has been to Alabama multiple times -- most recently for the Iron Bowl in November -- but he saw a different side of the Crimson Tide program over the weekend.

And even though he enjoyed the visit, his leader still hails from the ACC.


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Recruit roundtable: Getting to the NFL 

January, 25, 2013
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Nick ChubbRadi Nabuis/ESPN2014 running back Nick Chubb will focus on an all-around experience in college.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- After winning back-to-back national championships, the University of Alabama is on top of the college football world right now. The Crimson Tide currently have the No. 2 recruiting class and could have up to six players taken in the first round of April’s NFL draft.

This weekend, the Alabama coaches will host some of the top 2014 prospects in the country for the Crimson Tide’s first junior day.

We talked to five of the players expected to attend -- Bryson Allen-Williams, Nick Chubb, Rashaan Evans, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Justin Thornton -- about recruiting, getting to the NFL and the chance to play for UA head coach Nick Saban.


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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It’s stretch time for the University of Alabama. With the exception of five-star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, the Crimson Tide have hosted all of their remaining targets for official visits, and now it’s a countdown to signing day.

Over the weekend, the UA staff and commitment Bradley Bozeman agreed to a grayshirt next year, which opens up another spot in the 2013 class. The Tide now can add five, possibly six more recruits over the next two weeks.

This week’s O-zone looks at who is most likely to fill the remaining spots and also previews this weekend’s junior day in Tuscaloosa.


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