TUSCALOOSA — It started last February during a 2½-hour drive home to Madison, when LaBryan Ray spent the entire trip with his phone glued to his ear.
After a weekend visit to Tuscaloosa, James Clemens High head coach Wade Waldrop couldn’t even get a word in edgewise while his prized defensive end remained locked in conversations with various college coaches after an unofficial visit to Alabama.
“We sat in the car ride and didn’t really even get to have a conversation with him because he was on the phone,” Waldrop said Friday by phone. “I think it’s probably been an everyday thing for him (since then).”
In fact, it’s only gotten more “hot and heavy,” as Ray has seen the number of phone calls rise as quickly as he climbed the national rankings. He ultimately earned the title as the No. 1 player in Alabama and a five-star prospect this winter.
At least according to his head coach, none of the extra attention that often comes with being a nationally-ranked prospect — including occasional in-school visits from coaches like Nick Saban and Jim McElwain — has changed the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Ray one iota.
“He’s been gold throughout this whole thing. He’s been so good. He’s got a great family around him and a network of people that have been very good for him,” Waldrop said Monday. “I can say this, in four years of coaching him, he’s never changed — from the time he was a freshman to the day he accepted his Under Armour jersey, he’s been the same humble kid.
“I just know from all the time he’s having to spend to cultivate these relationships, these phone calls, these texts, I know it’s got to take a toll, but he’s not let on that it has.”
Meanwhile, four-star receiver Henry Ruggs III of Montgomery — another prime in-state target for Alabama — has admittedly become a little overwhelmed by the entire recruiting experience.
“He has expressed that it is kind of overwhelming, but I told him it’s only for a short period of time and he’s just got to endure it,” Montgomery Lee head coach Tyrone Rogers said of Ruggs, “and after all this is over with and signing day is over, you can really start focusing on (your future because) you know what your blueprint is.
“It has taken its toll, but not to the point it’s so frustrating he doesn’t want to talk to anybody.”
With National Signing Day on Wednesday, that long process is nearly at its finish. Both Ray and Ruggs — the two highest rated players in the state according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings — are among a select handful of uncommitted prospects Alabama is still vying for. Ray remains one of the Tide’s prized defensive line targets, while the four-star Ruggs III is one of several elite receiver prospects Alabama has coveted in this year’s class.
The Crimson Tide, coming off its first national championship loss under Saban, already has 12 members of its 2017 recruiting class on campus as early enrollees — including five five-star prospects and Ray’s high school teammate, Kryiq McDonald — and 12 more committed players expected to sign Wednesday as part of what is currently the nation’s No. 1-rated class. Alabama has commitments from four of the state’s nine highest-ranked players, according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings, and is in good position with three more.
But whether the Tide can finish with the top-ranked class for a seventh consecutive season will undoubtedly require keeping Ray and Ruggs III home.
That’s the uncertainty this time of the year, as both Ray and Ruggs III remain undecided two days before signing day.
Ray likely will decide between the Tide, Tennessee and Florida. Ruggs will pick between Alabama and Florida State.
“There’s no doubt in my mind, he’s wide open, (but) I do feel like it’s down to Alabama, Tennessee and Florida — that’s just my outside opinion looking in,” Waldrop said of Ray. “He’s got good relationships with each one of them it looks like, I’ve seen him interact (well) with each one of them. I think each one is a different relationship, but I think he could be at home and at peace with any of them.”
Ray, who visited the Gators this past weekend after taking an official visit to Alabama on Jan. 20, will announce his decision at 11:40 a.m. Wednesday at James Clemens High School.
Ruggs is scheduled to announce his decision at 11 a.m. at Montgomery’s Robert E. Lee High.
“It’s still kind of up in the air, so he’s just going to make his decision (this) week,” Rogers said. “It’s going to be interesting.”