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|With already 11 scholarship offers, Friendship Collegiate (Washington, D.C.) sophomore Jalen Tabor (right) is one of the nation's most sought-after defensive backs.|
Jalen Tabor had to know that the college coaches who flocked to Friendship Collegiate (Washington, D.C.) last May weren't there to see a freshman part-time starter. Yes, the safety oozed with potential, thanks to unparalleled ball-hawking skill, but with Eddie Goldman, the nation's 10th-best senior recruit, lining up in the same defense, Tabor was far from the center of attention.
Still, after snagging three interceptions in his rookie season, the then-15-year-old thought otherwise.
"I was mad because nobody was looking at me at the time, and I felt I was really good," Tabor recalled. "I remember telling my friend that it was time for me to have some offers."
The next day, Tabor found out he wasn't the only one who felt this way. Tennessee linebackers coach Peter Sirmon (who now holds the same position at Washington) told Tabor to call him that night, when he offered the 6-foot-1, 170-pounder his first scholarship.
"I couldn't believe it, and all my family was crying when I told them," Tabor said. "I was just so hungry and I wanted that scholarship bad, so I was going my hardest out there to play up to my potential."
One year and 10 offers later, Tabor doesn't have to wonder whether his phone will ring.
With a team-high eight interceptions this past fall, Tabor has not only become one of the nation's top sophomore prospects but he's also one of the most sought-after recruits in any class, with Alabama, Auburn and Florida State making up just a few of his suitors.
It didn't take long for more schools to join Tennessee on the Tabor bandwagon. During the Knights' season-opener against Taft (Cincinnati) in front of a national television audience, Tabor recorded seven tackles and two interceptions, including an acrobatic, one-handed pick that left fans and scouts raving.
"He makes a lot of one-handed interceptions. I'm always impressed when he does that, but he does it pretty often," Knights coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim said. "It's very difficult to teach a DB to perform certain skills like track the ball, but Jalen's ball skills are pretty special. They're probably better than anybody I've coached."
That's no small claim coming from a former college defensive back who has trained the likes of Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden. But with Tabor's imposing size, impressive footwork and natural coverage skills, he's developed a knack for making plays.
"On every throw, the DB has a choice, and Jalen always seems to make the right choice," Abdul-Rahim said. "Sometimes he doesn't look back and stays with his man. Other times, you think he shouldn't look back, but then he ends up making the play."
While last year's offseason workouts yielded Tabor's first scholarship, Abdul-Rahim hopes that this summer's training molds Tabor into a more complete defensive back, one who not only makes plays on deep balls but also on short passes.
"I'd say there's a lot of pressure to perform. I can't just have eight interceptions again, and I have to have way more tackles next year," Tabor said. "If I don't, people will say I just did the same thing as last year or that I underachieved. So I'm working hard every day to get better."
Tabor has also made a point to glean tips from Goldman's recruiting process, such as the advantages of taking all five official visits and avoiding the spotlight to help keep a clear head. Of course, achieving the latter might be tough, even for a guy who less than a year ago was nearly begging for attention.
"It'll be real different on the field and in recruiting next year, so I've got to be ready," Tabor said. "Last year, I snuck up on people, but now that my name's out there, there's no more sneaking up on people."Brandon Parker covers high school sports for ESPNHS. Follow him on Twitter @brandoncparker or email him at email@example.com.