NCF On The Trail: Landon Collins

Some players flipped their commitments while other’s had memorable signing-day moments. Here is a closer look at the five most intriguing recruitments from the SEC.

The Opening has become a breeding ground for future SEC players over the years. It started in 2011 as a football camp for the nation’s top recruits and has grown every year since. For those who haven’t heard of it or know little about it, here’s a fan’s guide to the event.

This year is no different in terms of SEC participation as 37 of the 162 invitees have already committed to SEC schools.

[+] EnlargeLandon Collins
Ryan A. Miller/Icon SMILandon Collins starred at The Opening before becoming a star for Alabama at safety.
SEC commitments by school

Alabama: 10
Texas A&M: 7
Georgia: 5
Florida: 4
LSU: 3
Mississippi State: 2
South Carolina: 2
Tennessee: 2
Kentucky: 1
Missouri: 1

The event will be broadcast on ESPN’s family of networks and gives you a chance to see the future of your school. Don’t believe me? Just look at some of the past participants to come through who are now making noise on Saturdays in the SEC.

Vadal Alexander (2011): If there were any doubts about Alexander before The Opening, he answered them with his performance. He rarely got beat in the one-on-one drills and used his strength to overpower opposing defensive linemen. It was that same strength that helped him early at LSU, and he’s expected to start up front for the third straight season. He and left tackle La'El Collins form a menacing tandem on the left side for the Tigers.

Landon Collins (2011): Collins stole the show at the inaugural camp. He won the SPARQ national championship with a high score of 143.76 and was a beast all week in the 7-on-7 competition. He didn’t make the type of impact he was hoping for as a freshman at Alabama, but he emerged last season with 69 tackles, two interceptions and two fumbles forced. He’s one of the top safeties in the country and projected to be a first-round draft pick.

Vernon Hargreaves III (2012): The week didn’t last long for Hargreaves, who injured his ankle on the first day, but he did run a 4.42 40-yard dash and a 4.1 shuttle before bowing out. That speed and athleticism was evident this past season, as the Florida freshman emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC. He finished with 38 tackles, three interceptions, and was among the league leaders in passes defended with 14.

O.J. Howard (2012): Tight ends don’t typically stand out at The Opening, but Howard isn’t your typical tight end. He measured in at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, ran a 4.49 40-yard dash and dominated 7-on-7 play with his combination of size and speed. Unlike teammate and fellow Opening alum Derrick Henry, Howard endured a slow start to his Alabama career, but the expectations are high heading into this season.

Laquon Treadwell (2012): Treadwell might not have tested as well as some of his peers, but once he got on the field, he caught everything thrown his way. He showed the ability to make a catch under duress in traffic, and if the ball was in his vicinity, he was coming down with it. That held true at Ole Miss, where he led all SEC freshman with 72 receptions and finished with 608 yards and five touchdowns.
When he was first hired, Les Miles said one of the key ingredients for success at LSU was to win the local recruiting battles. Through the years, Miles has done a masterful job of doing just that. But in the past few classes, some LSU fans have complained after watching highly-ranked prospects such as Landon Collins, Tim Williams, Cameron Robinson, Laurence Jones and Speedy Noil end up at Alabama or Texas A&M.

Never mind that the Tigers landed Leonard Fournette, the nation’s No. 1 player in 2014, and five of the top 10 Louisiana players in both 2013 and 2014. All fans wanted to focus on were the setbacks. They shouldn’t.

LSU and Miles continue to be the kings of The Pelican State and continued to prove it Wednesday with the additions of two local ESPN Junior 300 prospects. The Tigers added pledges from St. Francisville (La.) West Feliciana four-star receiver Jazz Ferguson and Mandeville (La.) Lakeshore four-star running back David Ducre.

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Florida fan's viewing guide to UA Game 

January, 2, 2014
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A year ago in the Under Armour All-America Game, Florida fans were treated to a satisfying showcase of their top two recruits -- cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and running back Kelvin Taylor.

Neither disappointed as a freshman this past fall. Hargreaves was named first-team All-SEC and Taylor showed promise after taking over as Florida's primary ball-carrier just before midseason.

After going 4-8 in 2013, Florida needs impact freshmen more than ever. Here's a look at what to watch for in Thursday's UA Game (4 p.m., ESPN, complete roster).

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When ESPN 300 safeties C.J. Hampton (Meridian, Miss./Meridian) and Laurence 'Hootie' Jones (Monroe, La./Neville) competed at Alabama’s camp last month, it was no accident that the two were placed on the same 7-on-7 team or that they worked out back-to-back in the same drills. They were around each other all week.

The UA staff strategically placed the two prospects together to form a bond that could potentially lead to a package deal for the Crimson Tide. And why not? The two are perfect complements to one another in the secondary.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama landed another commitment on Tuesday when 2014 safety Chris Williams (Kingsland, Ga./Camden County) announced his verbal pledge to the Crimson Tide via Twitter.

[+] EnlargeWilliams
Miller Safrit/Under ArmourChris Williams joined high school teammate Kalvaraz Bessent as an Alabama commit.
First, he had to get his mother’s blessing.

“Me and my mom sat down and talked about, making sure I went to the place that I wanted to go,” Williams said. “The atmosphere is nice, the weight room, the practice facilities, the game field, the coaches, everything. It’s just right.”

It wasn’t too difficult to sell his mother, Cassandra Williams, on Alabama. She grew up in Wetumpka, Ala., and has always pulled for the Tide. Still, she had to make sure that’s where her son really wanted to go and that he wasn’t doing it for her sake.

“I was sitting on the coach, and he came in and said, ‘Mom, I want to commit to Alabama. I said, ‘no you don’t. You just know I like them. That’s why you’re doing it. Don’t do it for me. You have to do it for yourself.’ He was like, ‘Mom, this is what I want to do.’

“It was great for me because I’m an Alabama fan. I’m very proud.”

After he told his mother, Williams reached out to his high school teammate, cornerback Kalvaraz Bessent, who committed to Alabama last week. The two visited Tuscaloosa together last month for the Tide’s junior day.

“Me and him, we’ve got a good relationship,” Bessent said. “We’ve been playing football together since middle school. I’m really excited about it. I think we can do good together, push each other harder and make each other better.”

Bessent says he was the one who ultimately convinced his teammate to pick Alabama. Williams had offers from Auburn, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Ohio State and Ole Miss, but it came down to Alabama and Florida State.

“He was saying Florida State, Florida State, Florida State, but I was telling him Alabama, Alabama,” Bessent said. “I kind of convinced him to go because he’s like a little brother to me. We’re both good athletes, and it will be good for us to go to the same school.”

It was the type of package deal the UA coaching staff was looking for. Secondary was a need for the Tide in 2014, and both players fill that need -- Bessent at cornerback and now the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Williams at safety. The two know how to play off each other.

“If we’re in red, cover 3, that means we’re both going to cover deep, so we have to have each other’s back,” Williams said. “In cover 2, I have to have his back on the deep route.”

“We celebrate a lot,” Bessent said. “I know if I make a mistake, he’s got my back, and I’ve pretty much got his back.”

The two Peach State commitments join ESPN Watch List athlete Bo Scarbrough (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Northridge) in Alabama’s 2014 class. Williams is the first safety to commit to the Tide since Landon Collins in the 2012 class.

Texas: 2014 prospects to watch 

February, 7, 2013
With signing day 2013 having wrapped up, it's time to turn our attention to 2014 recruits. Here are five players the Longhorns are really keying on, be it players who are already committed or top targets who will determine the direction Texas’ next class goes in:

[+] EnlargeJamal Adams
Miller Safrit/ESPNWatch List safety Jamal Adams has several offers to choose from.
1. QB Jerrod Heard - Texas commit
Denton (Texas) Guyer

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The Uncommitteds: Antonio Conner 

January, 29, 2013
Editor's note: Leading up to signing day, TideNation will examine the remaining uncommitted prospects still considering the University of Alabama. Today, we look at ESPN 150 safety Antonio Conner.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Last year, the Crimson Tide pulled five-star safety Landon Collins out of Louisiana, away from the Bayou Bengals. This year, they’re trying to do the same thing in Mississippi, attempting to take ESPN 150 safety Antonio Conner away from Ole Miss.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It’s one thing to go into Death Valley and steal a win away from LSU in the fourth quarter, but it’s another to go into Baton Rouge and steal a top 50 recruit right out of the Tigers’ backyard.

That’s exactly what Nick Saban and the University of Alabama did on Monday.

ESPN 150 defensive end Tim Williams, who projects as an outside linebacker at Alabama, committed to the Crimson Tide over offers from nearly every major program in the country, including LSU.

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No matter position, Beckwith a huge 'get' 

January, 4, 2013
Where Kendell Beckwith will make an impact on the football field for LSU is an interesting question to ponder.

An “athlete” in the scout lexicon, the ESPN 150 prospect who committed to the Tigers tonight might be a linebacker in the Tiger’s 4-3 scheme … or he might bulk up and come off the edge as a pass-rushing defensive end, in the Barkevious Mingo mold.

[+] EnlargeKendell Beckwith
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comThe nation's No. 2 athlete, four-star recruit Kendell Beckwith says he'd likely feel most at home at linebacker in college.
His impact on LSU’s recruiting class, however, is unquestionable. Simply put, getting Beckwith is huge for the Tigers for a number of reasons:

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Tide shine in state on ESPN Watch List 

September, 27, 2012
Since before Nick Saban arrived, the University of Alabama has always had the same philosophy in recruiting. Make the in-state players a priority and keep the top talent close to home. That idea hasn’t changed under Saban’s regime.

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Maurice Smith taking in Bama-Michigan 

August, 28, 2012

When Alabama lines up Saturday against Michigan at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, several athletes residing in the Lone Star State are expected to be in attendance for the big game.

One of those confirmed athletes is ESPN 150 cornerback and Under Armour All-American Maurice Smith (Sugar Land, Texas/Dulles), an Alabama commit who also had an offer from Michigan. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound cornerback, who participated in The Opening in July, said he is solid on his pledge to the Crimson Tide, but he added he’ll be looking at one thing in particular with members of both defensive secondary units.

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Champs ink Landon Collins 

February, 1, 2012
Five-star safety Landon Collins (Geismar, La./Dutchtown) honored his verbal commitment to Alabama and has signed with the Crimson Tide.

During the Under Armour All-America Game, his mother vocally disagreed with his decision, as she wanted him to attend LSU, which is closer to home.

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According to ESPN's David Helman, Geismar, La., five-star safety Landon Collins announced moments ago at his high school he is sticking with his pledge to Alabama.

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RecruitingNation airs at 3 p.m. ET today on ESPNU, and national analyst Craig Haubert and senior national analyst Tom Luginbill will discuss the new No. 1 team in the class rankings.

That team?

The Alabama Crimson Tide.

After landing five-star safety Landon Collins and four-star athlete Cyrus Jones at the Under Armour All-America Game last week, the Tide leaped ahead of Texas to become the nation’s No. 1 class.

Haubert and Luginbill will discuss other movers and shakers in the top 25 and reflect on recent commitments from players like Channing Ward, Barry Sanders Jr. and Jordan Jenkins. The analysts will also take a look at players whose stock increased after the recent national and regional all-star games.

RecruitingNation writers will contribute with a look at what's still on the board at Michigan and how USC is dealing with sanctions.