SEC commits shine in UA Game
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- At times it looked like a celebration of Alabama football and by the fourth quarter it was appropriate that “Sweet Home Alabama” was the tune of the night.
From Amari Cooper's 75-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter to the announcement of Geismar, La., five-star safety Landon Collins in the fourth quarter, Thursday night was all about the Crimson Tide.
Cooper, who at times can be as quiet as a calm wind, has come up big all season when the lights were on. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound four-star prospect from Northwestern High in Miami added a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown in the White team's 49-16 win over the Black team and quickly gained a fan base from his future teammates.
“Amari doesn't say a lot, but you don't have to when you have that much game,” said five-star athlete Eddie Williams (Panama City, Fla./Arnold), another Bama commit. “You see his technical skills, his footwork, his ball skills and you know he's a big-time player.”
The Tide continued to roll all night -- four-star athlete Cyrus Jones (Baltimore, Md./Gilman) committed to Alabama in the third quarter and then scored on a 40-yard interception return.
While this might have been a glimpse of the future for Jones, it appears likely that his career in Tuscaloosa will see him on the offensive side of the ball.
“If you like what you see out of me on defense wait until you see me on offense,” said Jones. “I'm thinking about the future and lining up with Amari. I know he can teach me some things and I can teach him some things.”
With the commitments of Jones and Collins, the Tide had eight commits in Thursday's game and now have the nation's top-ranked recruiting class with national signing day less than a month away.
“Alabama is the premier program in the nation right now and the guys in the game should tell everyone how bright the future is,” Collins said. “I know my decision surprised some people but I feel firm and comfortable with my choice and my future.”
Although Alabama's future stars appeared to shine brightest, there were other programs that should look forward to great things to come.
Florida State, who had six verbals in the game, may have the quarterback of the future if Jameis Winston's commit sticks. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound senior from Hueytown, Ala., walked away with MVP honors for the White team after going 8-of-9 for 178 yards and two touchdowns.
Winston has remained firm with the Seminoles despite constant overtures from Alabama and the potential of a future in Major League Baseball.
“It was a great experience to play with a lot of these guys that I'm going to be doing the chop with for the next few years,” Winston said.
Four-star defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. (St. Petersburg, Fla./Lakewood), playing just minutes from his school, started for the Black team and had a sack.
“I probably could have had a few more out there but it's OK,” Fowler said. “Jameis was great and I think tonight was a good start for the future of FSU football.
“We want to get the Seminoles back to where they used to be.”
FSU's bitter rivals to the southeast, the Florida Gators, should also have plenty to look forward to based off of Thursday's performances. Four-star cornerback Brian Poole (Bradenton, Fla./Southeast) set the Under Armour All-America Game with a 93-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Four-star safety Marcus Maye (Melbourne, Fla./Holy Trinity), playing outside linebacker Thursday, blocked a punt for a safety and recovered a fumble.
“There were a lot of future Gators out there working hard,” said wide receiver Latroy Pittman (Citra, Fla./North Marion), a Gators commit who had one reception and one massive crackback block. “They are great guys and I'm looking forward to what we can accomplish together over the next few years.”
Overall, the SEC continued to be the dominating theme in the Under Armour All-America Game. Aberdeen, Miss., four-star defensive end Channing Ward, who committed to Ole Miss during the event, had two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss.
The 6-3, 230-pound senior is hopeful that his commitment and the play of White team teammate Issac Gross (Batesville, Miss./South Panola) will help turn things around in Oxford.
“I think the offense at Ole Miss is pretty good but they need some big playmakers on defense,” Ward said. “I'm hopeful we can come in and help the home school get back on track.
“The SEC is where the best football is played and the SEC West is the toughest division but we're going to grind and work and fight to get the program in contention.”
Some players are still undecided and for Hamilton (Ga.) Harris County four-star defensive end Jordan Jenkins nights like Thursday make an already tough decision even tougher.
The 6-3, 235-pound senior will make his announcement Jan. 9 and is choosing between Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Georgia.
“I spent time with a lot of the guys from each program, just hanging out,” said Jenkins, who had two sacks.
“They are all great guys and it's going to be tough because some will be my teammates and others will be the guys I have to go through to win ball games,” Jenkins said. “The decision didn't get any easier.”
Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at email@example.com.