TUSCALOOSA — Two years ago, Nick Saban was asked about the importance of signing Alabama’s top two in-state players — five-star linebackers Ben Davis of Gordo and Mack Wilson of Montgomery — and what it did for the perception of his program.
In true Saban-like fashion, he shot down the premise of the question before listing his reasons for why inking both players were important to his 2016 class.
"We weren't worried about perception,” Saban said at the time. “We like getting good players who can go out on the field and play good. Perception doesn't win any games for us around here, but good players do.”
According to those that regularly cover Alabama’s recruiting and those with knowledge of the Tide’s yearly recruiting board, the ability to land the top players in the home state is definitely a priority for Saban and his staff.
“Alabama would definitely like to sign the top player in the state every single year,” said Chris Kirschner, SEC Country’s Alabama recruiting writer, “It normally targets the top player in the state every year and it’s just good perception-wise when Alabama prefers an in-state kid over a guy who lives on the other side of the country.”
Added Hank South of 247Sports.com’s BamaOnline: “Yeah I think it’s important. … We see the graphics Alabama’s athletics (department) puts out that say they signed the No. 1 class. You go look at the player’s bios (on the team website) and it shows their (recruiting) ratings. So I think it’s certainly important, and it’s branding, it goes to show what they’re doing (recruiting their home state).”
While the Tide’s 2018 in-state recruiting efforts have lagged behind compared to previous years — with the expectation it’ll sign at most three Alabama prospects this class — Alabama is still on target to land the state’s top overall prospect, four-star Phenix City receiver Justyn Ross.
That’s in addition to four-star cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis of St. Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile, the second-rated player in the state according to 247Sports, who signed in December.
“It’s always important to get the top player (in your state),” said Andrew Bone of Rivals.com’s BamaInsider, “and they might not get 9-10-12 guys (from) in the state, but as long as they’re getting the top overall players, they’re pretty happy.”
Since 2005, Alabama has signed 247Sports’ No. 1 rated player in the state 11 times in the last 13 years, including the last five years dating back to 2012 when Hueytown quarterback Jameis Winston opted for Florida State.
“Alabama does a good job of not only keeping the top guys in state, but keeping them away from Auburn,” Bone said. “You could argue this guy or that guy could be No. 1 (in the state), but in terms of the rankings, Alabama has consistently been able to land the top overall player in the state of Alabama, and I think they’re going to be able to do so this year.”
According to 247Sports.com’s rankings, Alabama has also signed the No. 2 player in the state every year since 2007 except for 2015, when Kerryon Johnson signed with Auburn. The December early signing of Armour-Davis gives the Tide the state’s second-highest rated player in 11 of the last 12 years, according to 247Sports.
If the Tide can reel in Ross as widely expected, this year’s class could be the ninth in 12 signing classes under Saban in which the Crimson Tide inked the state of Alabama’s No. 1- and No. 2-ranked players, according to 247Sports’ rankings, The only exceptions are 2015, 2012 and his first class, 2007.