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Monday, July 2, 2012
Tabor's recruitment in good hands

By Dave Hooker
ESPN RecruitingNation

OLNEY, Md. -- Jalen Tabor is a very good college football prospect with nearly 20 offers, but his support staff may be even better.

The 2014 defensive back prospect from Washington (D.C.) Friendship is flanked by a community that is determined to see him succeed, namely his parents, stepfather and head coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim.

"It's real exciting," Abdul-Rahim said of Tabor's growth. "I'm just happy to be a part of it. What's good for him is he does have other role models to be around."

Abdul-Rahim said Tabor's mother and stepfather are like team parents for Friendship. They're always around. At times they seem like coaches. Yet there's no jockeying for the lead position with Tabor and his recruitment.

Aazaar Abdul-Rahim, Jalen Tabor
Jalen Tabor (right) and his head coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim consider their relationship more like father and son, rather than coach and player.

"There haven't been any ego issues as far as who has the say," Abdul-Rahim said. "Nothing like that. We all work together."

Abdul-Rahim, who specializes in tutoring defensive backs, is obviously the coach. Tabor's mother, Merri Tabor, is in charge of day-to-day operations.

"I'm just like his manager," she said. "Right on time, [I'll say] 'You've got to do this math test or you've got to do this training or you've got to be picked up at this time.' It's hard work on everybody's part."

One might think that the balancing act is much more difficult now that Tabor is a well-known prospect with a stack of scholarship offers to consider and recruiters always trying to reach him. Not so.

"We've been balancing him this way since he was little," Merri Tabor said. "He used to play basketball [in addition to football], so we've always had something going on."

Basketball is now a thing of the past, which gives Jalen the opportunity to focus on football. The sole direction seems to be working. Tabor had a handful of scholarship offers last season when he was just a sophomore.

Tabor's recruitment was premeditated. The family long planned to get Tabor exposure by taking him to a variety of camps before his sophomore season in 2011. The hope was to evaluate schools now, so Tabor can focus on a chosen few before he announces his decision on national signing day in February 2014. Then there's keeping Tabor focused.

"We just let him know that we're taking it one day at a time," Merri Tabor said. "Tomorrow is not promised. We're trying to narrow the schools down and keep him focused on high school right now. We were excited [about the scholarship offers], but we're just staying grounded and humble. We tried to put him out there early, so we could have the recruiting process go fast."

Despite the best laid plans, the early attention is still a bit startling. Merri Tabor can still recall her response when her son informed her of his first scholarship offer.

"I was very surprised," she said. "I just tell him to keep working hard. He still has to work. There's a lot of good talent out there."

Merri Tabor gave a short "no comment" when asked if she had a favorite school among her son's suitors. Jalen has done about the same, although he has given some hints. He recently took visits to Alabama, Auburn and Florida and -- for what it's worth -- was sporting a Gators visor during Saturday's Under Armour 7-on-7 passing tournament in Olney, Md. Tabor also seemed to brighten up when asked about what Florida could offer.

"It's The Swamp. I love Florida," he said with a smile, then added how much he liked the coaching staff. "They all treat me like I'm one of their players. I really like Florida, especially the stadium."

So should media and fans read into his headgear and excitement about the Gators? Tabor was non-committal.

"Not really," he said. "A little bit. They're going to be in it to the end."

The same could be said for Alabama.

"It was real nice," Tabor said of a recent visit. "They work like they're last in the SEC, but they're really first in the SEC."

Tabor was supposed to visit Florida State as part of his southern swing, but when that fell through because of a miscommunication, he went to Auburn.

"That's another great program," the 6-foot-1, 180-pound prospect said. "Auburn's got a lot to offer. Everything at Auburn is great. The coaches were great, [linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen and secondary coach Willie Martinez]. I really like Auburn."

Recruiting Tabor will be a group affair for the Tigers. Thigpen recruits the Washington, D.C., area, but it will be up to Martinez to make sure Tabor is comfortable with Auburn's scheme in the defensive backfield.

Nearby Maryland could also become a factor, especially since it has recruited so well in the D.C. area. The Terrapins, however, will have to have more success on the field to woo Tabor.

"Maryland has to start winning some games," said Tabor, regarding Maryland's 2-10 season in 2011. "They have a lot of commits. If they start producing on the field, then Maryland would definitely be an option. I wouldn't have to go far. My parents could come see me play. I live five minutes from the school.

"It would be great but I'm not going to go somewhere where they're not winning. I want to get to the next level after the next level. I want a school to put me in a position to get to where I want to be."

Maryland's proximity is negated by the fact that the Tabor family will move close to whichever college he chooses. So far, that support has produced a combination of talent and work ethic that Abdul-Rahim has said is unparalleled in his career. However, he can't claim responsibility for it. That drive comes from his mother.

Merri Tabor played high school basketball but said her drive was more focused on academics. She still has to compete every day as an entrepreneur.

"We're self-employed, so if we don't work, we don't get paid," said Merri, who works in Internet sales.

Jalen must have soaked in that work ethic early, because his mother saw it long ago.

"When he was 5," Merri Tabor said when asked when she saw her son's drive to be the best he could be. "He started playing football when he was 4. They were playing flag [football], and he was so, so committed to the game. He was so excited. If he lost, he would be upset. If he won, he would be happy. He's always been a fan of the game. So I said if you really like this, you could work hard and just keep going."

Now, that's not a concern.

"Not a day off for him," Merri Tabor said. "Seven days. On top of the training at school, he does defensive back training on Sundays and Tuesdays."

It didn't take long for Abdul-Rahim to see the same.

"I think the minute I met him," he said when asked when he saw Tabor's inner drive. "One of the reasons he decided to come to Friendship was that some of the older kids told him about some of the defensive back training, so he always wanted to be good.

"He always knew to hang around older kids when he first got here to get all he could out of them on the field and off the field. His drive is relentless. He wants to be successful. He'll do DB stuff two times a day, along with training."

The drive and the mentoring have drawn Tabor and Abdul-Rahim close. The coach won't pick favorites, but there's an obvious bond between the two.

"That's one of my guys," Abdul-Rahim said. "More like a father and son. I care about all of my kids, but I care deeply about him. We spend a lot of time together, on the field and off the field and in workouts.

"I can tell when I talk to him that he believes in what I say. That means a lot to me because he listens to every word I say, then he applies it on the field."

Recruiting has slowed down a bit for Tabor. There hasn't been any flurry of recent offers since the spring evaluation period. Besides, with nearly 20 months before he'll announce his decision, recruiting can take a backseat to the hard work he's accustomed to.

"I'm real excited for this season," Tabor said. "That's my main focus right now -- this season, getting better, getting strong and getting faster."

He'll have plenty of support to do so.