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High School Football

Boom in 'Bama

With a rare bumper crop of talent in his backyard, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban is trying to keep it in-state

FOR THE past 12 months they've been scrambling around Alabama in droves with their stopwatches and notepads. It's been a while since the state was a hot spot on the college football recruiting trail, but this year it's a must-stop destination for Division I coaches from California to Michigan to Miami because Alabama boasts as many as 100 players who have proved deserving of D-I scholarships. "Until this year Alabama had traditionally been a third-tier state when it comes to recruiting," says recruiting analyst Mike Farrell, noting that California, Florida and Texas usually make up the first tier, followed by Georgia, Louisiana and Ohio. "There's not only a great depth of talent in Alabama, but there are also superstar, program-changing players in the state."

Indeed, on the Rivals' list of the top 150 recruits in the nation, Alabama counts nine (which places them fifth behind Florida with 23; California, 19; Texas, 18; and Georgia, 12). Perched at No. 2 in the country and still up for grabs is wide receiver Julio Jones from Foley High, who finished the season with 68 catches for 1,179 yards and 16 touchdowns. At 6'4" and 218 pounds with electric open-field running ability, Jones was described by one recruiting analyst as "a faster, stronger version of Michael Irvin." Jones has whittled his list of suitors to Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. But if he follows the lead of most of the other top players in the state, Jones will end up playing for the Crimson Tide.

In fact, Alabama coach Nick Saban has received oral commitments from four of those top nine in-state players on the Rivals' national list, and three more in addition to Jones have yet to decide on a school. Overall, there are 14 Alabamians among his 23 oral commitments, led by Tyler Love, a 6'7", 285-pound tackle from Mountain Brook High, who is ranked No. 6 in the nation at his position. Saban is hell-bent on corralling the state's blue-chip players in Tuscaloosa, reversing a recent trend in which athletes of the caliber of JaMarcus Russell (LSU), Patrick White (West Virginia), Philip Rivers (N.C. State) and Chad Jackson (Florida) bolted across state lines.

Last Saturday at Birmingham's Legion Field, in the Class 6A state championship game between defending champ Prattville (15--0) and Hoover's Spain Park (13--2), another player on Saban's radar flashed his tantalizing potential. Spain Park defensive end--linebacker William Green, a 6'4", 215-pound senior who runs the 40 in 4.68, displayed a freakishly quick first step off the edge as he made two sacks and three tackles, though Prattville would win the title 14--0. Green, who finished the year with 117 tackles and is the No. 37 player in the country according to Rivals, is leaning toward Alabama, Auburn or Florida.

Landing Jones and Green on national signing day (Feb. 6), plus the other in-state blue-chippers who have orally committed, would put Saban's recruiting class among the best in the country.

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Friday Night Lights

ST. AUGUSTINE (Fla.) vs. NAPLES (Fla.), Dec. 14
The Class 3A finalists arrived at the championship game with varying success. After dominating its first 12 opponents by an aggregate 518--70, Naples (14--0) lost starting QB Craig Wingate to an injury and needed junior backup Nate Prudhomm to lead the team in the fourth quarter for 27--24 and 28--21 wins the last two weeks. St. Augustine (13--1) has been tearing through opponents of late, winning eight straight by an average margin of 34 points, including the last two by 35--0 and 44--14, thanks to senior QB Kawaun Jakes (above), who has 2,110 passing yards this year.

National Notebook

QB Randall Mackey had 398 yards of offense (139 rushing, 259 passing) and four TDs in Bastrop's 38--14 win over Archbishop Shaw (Marrero) in the Louisiana 4A final. It was the Rams' third straight title (though they were stripped of the 2005 title for recruiting violations) and Mackey's third outstanding-player-of-the-game honor.

Trinity (Louisville) beat crosstown nemesis St. Xavier in overtime 34--28 last Saturday to claim the Class 6A championship, its Kentucky-record 18th state title. Shamrocks junior tailback Tim Phillips carried 16 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

New Bern QB Brett Williams ran for 137 yards and threw for 189 as the Bears ended Charlotte Independence's streak of seven consecutive North Carolina Class 4-AA championships with a 28--17 win, avenging their title-game losses in 2002, '03 and '05. Williams was named MVP.

SI's Top 10 Power Rankings

1 NORTHWESTERN (Miami) 14--0
Scored TD with 18 seconds left to gain 6A final vs. Boone (Orlando)

2 ST. XAVIER (Cincinnati) 15--0
Season complete

3 SOUTH PANOLA (Batesville, Miss.) 15--0
Held off George County (Lucedale) 28--21 in 5A final

4 KATY (Texas) 14--0
In for a battle vs. 13--1 Madison (San Antonio) in 5A Div. II semifinal

5 MARYVILLE (Tenn.) 15--0
Beat Maplewood for 60th straight win, eighth 4A title in 10 years

6 BOOKER T. WASHINGTON (Miami) 13--0
Final obstacle to 4A crown: 13--1 Nease (Ponte Vedra)

7 NORTHSIDE (Warner Robins, Ga.) 14--0
Rallied from 21 points down to beat Tucker 31--28; next faces 12--2 Ware County (Waycross) in 4A final

8 PRATTVILLE (Ala.) 15--0
Won second straight 6A title; Jerodis Williams rushed for 116 yards

9 DON BOSCO PREP (Ramsey, N.J.) 12--0
Season complete

10 PAHOKEE (Fla.) 14--0
Anthony Sheppard had four TD passes in 2B title win over Newberry

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HOT PROSPECTS Green (94) is a terror coming off the edge, and Jones (inset) is one of the most wanted wideouts.



[See caption above]