TAMPA – To fans of college football, the tale of Nick Saban’s customary reception to University of Alabama recruits has become the stuff of legend.
As the story goes, Saban – usually wearing a suit and crimson-colored tie in most retellings – invites the recruit into his office, offers him a seat on the couch, then pulls out a remote control.
Saban’s door then slams behind the recruit, usually an unnerving experience for the wide-eyed high school kid.
Somehow, Jesuit linebacker Vincent Jackson Jr., had never heard about it before he experienced it for himself.
“It was some movie-type stuff,” Jackson said, chuckling at the memory. “He closed the door from, like, 50 feet away. I was nervous … I thought it was going to be a bad talk or something.”
It was quite the opposite.
Saban, head coach of the two-time defending national champion, actually extended a scholarship offer – one of the nation’s most coveted among recruits – to Jackson during his visit last weekend to Tuscaloosa.
For the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Jackson, who boasts more than 30 offers, it was the prize he’d been seeking for at least a year.
“It’s crazy … the No. 1 team in the nation is offering me,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Jackson had been expecting the offer from Alabama in recent weeks, and sealed the deal by taking an unofficial visit there with friend and fellow highly-touted recruit, Lakewood offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn.
Jackson and Wynn took a tour of the campus Saturday morning, then watched one of the team’s spring scrimmages later that afternoon. As the visit came to a close, Saban started inviting in a few recruits one at a time.
When it was Jackson’s turn, Saban went through his now-mythological reception and then started talking football.
Saban asked Jackson about his opinion on the team. Jackson, never one to shy from offering an opinion, said the defense looked like it was missing some of the playmakers that had come to define its previous title runs.
Jackson said Saban appreciate the honesty. “He didn’t want me to sugarcoat it.”
Saban then offered the scholarship to Jackson, comparing him to former Crimson Tide star and current New England Patriots linebacker Donta Hightower.
“He was one of my favorite players here,” Jackson said. “Right now, they want me as an inside linebacker like him.”
Jackson and Wynn then left Alabama for Auburn, where they had another enjoyable visit. The new coaching staff at Auburn confirmed the earlier offer to Jackson, who came back to Tampa tempted to make a commitment to one of the schools.
But Jackson has said he’ll hold off on making a decision for now and expects to visit Texas A&M, which has also extended an offer, in the coming months.
He also thinks pretty highly of Miami and Oregon. One school, however, that probably is out of the running is Florida, which hasn’t issued an offer even after several unofficial visits to Gainesville.
“I’ve never talked to Florida coaches as much as I have Alabama,” he said. "I don’t really see the point in trying to keep in contact with them.”
Youth being served
Pasco freshman Nate Craig has the size (6-3, 185 pounds), speed and athleticism of a much older player. So it’s no surprise that his recruitment is already heating up.
Texas Tech became the first school to offer the Pirates receiver when they extended the scholarship last week — 34 months before he can sign a letter of intent.
“I was surprised,” Craig said. “I didn’t see it coming.”
Craig is one of the earliest Tampa Bay players to receive an offer. East Carolina offered defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III as an eighth grader, but the UF-bound Wharton star wasn’t living in Tampa yet.
East Lake receiver George Campbell landed his first offer, from USF, in July after his freshman season.
“I’m not usually seeing freshmen being offered,” said Craig, who led the Pirates with seven touchdown catches last fall.
But early offers are becoming routine elsewhere. Just last week, Florida and Florida State both offered Dylan Moses, an eighth grader from Louisiana, his dad announced on Twitter. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound athlete already holds offers from Alabama and LSU.
Jacksonville’s Tyreke Johnson is a phenom in middle school. According to MaxPreps, FSU and Miami are interested in the 6-foot-1, 172-pound seventh grader, who likely projects at receiver or defensive back. His older brother, De’Andre, has orally committed to the Seminoles for the recruiting class of 2015.
Tyreke was expected to be the youngest position player ever offered a scholarship — but was beaten this week when Vanderbilt offered seventh grader Jahlen Jack, a running back from Washington.
Dragon on the right track
At the behest of Jefferson’s track coaches, defensive end/linebacker Juwuan Brown picked up a shot about a month ago for the first time and sent it soaring toward Dale Mabry.
“They asked me to try it and I said, ‘All right, I’ll try it,’ ” the junior recalled. “My first throw I threw 44 (feet), so…”
Since then, Brown (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) has won county (49 feet, 0.5 inches) and district (48-0.5) shot put titles. Yet as trajectory goes, Dragons football coaches say his throws have nothing on his recruiting stock.
Brown, they insist, has far more upside as a pass rusher than a putter. He brandished his promise with eight sacks in his inaugural varsity season last fall, and has seven offers.
That total could double as college coaches arrive by the dozens to spring practices next month. His offers so far: USF, Kentucky, Indiana, Toledo, Ohio, Marshall and Louisville. Rivals.com lists him as a two-star prospect — for now.
“I’d say definitely his athleticism combined with his size is what sets him apart,” Jefferson football coach Jeremy Earle said.
“He’s so physical, but yet so fast and athletic, that he can really take over a game. And the biggest thing is, he’s still learning. …That’s why everyone’s so excited about him.”
Three bay area recruits — Armwood defensive back Kyle Gibson, East Lake receiver Artavis Scott and Lakewood offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn — have earned invitations to the Opening, a camp held in July at the Nike campus in Eugene, Ore., that brings together the best performers from the Nike training camps held this spring. St. Petersburg Catholic’s Ryan Green (FSU) and former Berkeley Prep standout Nelson Agholor (USC) have been among the local participants the past two years.
Staff writers Joey Knight, Matt Baker and Bob Putnam contributed to this report.