Alabama has recruited most of the country well under Nick Saban but he has a particularly strong trend developing between wide receivers in Dade and Broward County, Florida, arguably the most fertile football recruiting ground in America.
With familiarity in the fertile talent base of Florida, Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has gone to the well several times at positions all over the football field in his decade at the helm in Tuscaloosa. But beginning in the class of 2012, he targeted the wide receiver position with an unprecedented run of success for an out-of-state program.
In the summer of 2011, Alabama’s summer camp circuit brought many Floridians to Tuscaloosa in order to compete for potential scholarship offers and more. One such talent was Miami (Fla.) Northwestern rising-senior Amari Cooper. But it was a former NFL great at the position who latched onto him before he became a UA prospect. It was Cris Carter.
“He started working with us in the camp and he thought I stood out and that I was really quick, and he told coach Saban,” Cooper said.
Little did Carter, Saban or Cooper know, it would be the beginning of a pipeline of top South Florida wide receivers following the path to Alabama.
“It’s great!” he said with a laugh. “Coach Saban, he has a place to go now if he wants to find a great receiver. They were kind of sleep on south Florida, they didn’t know what south Florida had at the wide receiver position.
“But now they know.”
But the torch and trend didn’t hit the next level until the class of 2015. It looked like a literal passing as Cooper left UA for early part of the NFL Draft, just two years after helping the program to a national title during his freshman season. It gave way to another South Florida wide receiver who would break his freshman records en route to doing the same in 2015 — Calvin Ridley.
“It feels good, I mean I just come here to play and help the team win,” Ridley said of the trend.
The soft-spoken five-star prospect out of Coconut Creek (Fla.) Monarch picked Alabama shortly after watching Cooper and company work at A-Day 2014. There was a new buzz around home when it came to Alabama. It kicked off the process of helping the program land who many feel will be next in line once Ridley takes his talents to the NFL, too.
Jerry Jeudy flat out admits many things when it comes to Ridley. The current Deerfield Beach (Fla.) senior has long looked up to Ridley both on and off the field. There’s never been a doubt it contributed to his selection of Alabama on July 28.
“We have a strong bond,” Jeudy said. “I met him during my freshman year of high school, and I just learned a lot from him. We’ve had a really good relationship as years go by.”
Ridley and Jeudy were teammates for that 2013 season at Monarch High School, as both also patrolled the defensive backfield, in addition to making plays on offense. But the then-developing trend of South Forida’s top pass-catchers heading to Tuscaloosa for college also contributed in the four-star following his former teammate to the program.
“Yeah, it played a good part in my decision just ’cause some south Florida receivers came up and did their thing over at Alabama,” he said. “I feel like I can do the same.”
Cooper is starring in his second year in the NFL, Ridley is leading the 2016 Alabama team in catches and yards while Jeudy is turning heads senior year before playing in the 2017 Under Armour All-America Game, the same event both ‘Coop’ and ‘Rid’ capped their high school careers with.
But the lineage of top south Florida wide receivers goes back much further than Saban or even Carter for the foundation of the similarities between the three standouts. Each is known for precise route-running in addition to big play ability and the eldest of the bunch new his local history in his own development, too.
“I don’t really study receivers, the only one I tried to emulate a little bit after seeing him is Chad Johnson,” Cooper said after a recent effort. “He’s like second-to-none with the things he does as a receiver. I just like his style of play.”
After that same game, a preseason NFL tilt, counterpart Andre Johnson made it a point to speak to the former All-American before heading back to the locker room.
“He just told me to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “That guy was my favorite receiver growing up, he played for the University of Miami, I’m from Miami, he’s just a great, great receiver.”
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