- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban has never cared how many stars a recruit has or what other schools have offered a certain prospect. He just wants players that fit what he’s trying to do at the University of Alabama.
It’s been that way since the beginning. Some say he adapted the philosophy from current New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick when the two coached on the same staff together. However it evolved, Saban has carried it with him through stops at Michigan State, LSU, the Miami Dolphins and now Alabama.
The philosophy is calculated and precise and ultimately starts in the film room.
“There’s all these tapes and all this stuff that you a waste a lot of time,” Saban said. “I can spend three hours watching a player or I can spend 10 minutes watching a player and see just as much if somebody takes the time to put the right plays together. That’s a lot of work.
“We probably evaluated 500 players (in the 2013 class). Maybe more. I probably evaluated 500 but the rest of the staff evaluated twice as many to say I should look at them. It really takes a lot of work.”
But while the evaluation process might start in the film room, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Coaches want to see these recruits in person. Can they run? Are they big enough? How do they fare against other players of the same caliber?
That’s why the summer camps have become so important to the recruiting process, in particular at Alabama.
It doesn’t matter what a recruit is rated or where he’s ranked in the ESPN 150, Saban wants to see him prove it on the field. The UA staff handed out a plethora of scholarship offers this spring, but only a select few were deemed as committable -- meaning they could call and commit on the spot. The other group had to come to come to camp and earn the right to have their commitment accepted.
Just ask ESPN 150 quarterback David Cornwell (Norman Okla./Norman North), the nation’s No. 1 pocket-passer.
Any other school would likely take him, no questions asked, but Alabama wanted him to first attend their camp. They wanted him to work out with the other quarterbacks and throw in front of Saban before the offer he received in January became a committable offer.
“They can do that,” Cornwell said. “They have the right. They’ve won three out of the last four national championships. They have elite guys. Coach Saban and Coach [Doug] Nussmeier are the best around.
“You have the option. You don’t have to play by their rules. You can look around or commit to another school. I don’t mind the challenge.”
Cornwell accepted the challenge and arrived in Tuscaloosa over the weekend and threw for the coaches on Sunday and Monday. But the competition isn’t limited to just quarterbacks.
In-state linebackers Gavin Bryant (Jackson, Ala./Jackson) and Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) each have over a dozen offers, including the majority of the SEC, but UA defensive coordinator Kirby Smart wanted to see them both in camp this week before either could verbally commit to the Tide.
Matt Elam (Elizabethtown, Ky./John Hardin) was recently told he was the Tide’s No. 1 target at nose tackle, but the staff still wanted him to come to camp. The 6-foot-6, 350-pound Elam didn’t just take part in the camp Monday, he dominated the camp.
Smart and fellow assistant coach Lance Thompson told Elam he was the best defensive line prospect Alabama has had at camp in recent memory. If his offer wasn’t committable before, it certainly is now.
“I really do think I’m their top guy right now,” he said. “Everybody’s talking about how they think that other people are No. 1 and Coach Saban is lying when he says I’m the No. 1 prospect, but I believe him now.”
Some might question the authenticity of giving out offers that are contingent on coming to camp, and there’s no doubt other schools will use that to recruit against Alabama, but the results can’t be questioned.
With consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes, and a good chance at a third-straight national championship, the proof is pretty clear.