Commentary

Tide roll with in-state quarterbacks

With recruiting pressure intense, Alabama has thrived with homegrown QBs

Updated: January 18, 2012, 3:41 AM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

When Terry Bowden was coaching at Samford University in 1990, his father, then-Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, stopped by his office during a recruiting visit to Birmingham, Ala.

Terry Bowden's secretary, Barbara Barker, asked the elder Bowden for a favor.

"Coach Bowden, would you mind going to see my son?" Barker asked him. "It would make his day."

Jay Barker
Andrew Innerarity/APA recruiting visit from a Florida State coach sent Alabama native Jay Barker's stock soaring. Alabama claimed the quarterback on signing day in 1990.

Jay Barker was the starting quarterback at Hewitt-Trussville High School (Trussville, Ala.) but wasn't receiving much attention from college recruiters. Because Hewitt-Trussville ran an option offense and Barker rarely threw the football, his only available college option was to enroll at Auburn as a preferred walk-on.

Then-Tigers coach Pat Dye had promised Barker that a scholarship might be available for him the next year. But only two weeks before National Signing Day in 1990, Barker didn't have a scholarship offer from any major programs.

After Bowden's visit to Trussville, however, Barker was suddenly a hot commodity. New Alabama coach Gene Stallings called Barker the next day and offered him a scholarship. Later that day, Dye called and offered Barker a scholarship, too.

Alabama and Auburn weren't about to lose an in-state quarterback prospect to Florida State.

"Dad never offered Jay a scholarship and had no intention of offering him," said Terry Bowden, who was recently hired as Akron's coach. "But Auburn and Alabama had the biggest recruiting fight in Alabama history over the next two weeks for Jay Barker. Nobody wanted him until Dad showed up."

Barker ended up signing with Alabama in February 1990 and led the Crimson Tide to the 1992 national championship. In his three-plus seasons as Alabama's starting quarterback from 1991 to 1994, Barker went 35-2-1 and had the highest winning percentage in school history. He finished fifth in the 1994 Heisman voting.

If not for Bobby Bowden's brief visit, Barker might have slipped through the recruiting cracks.

"I think there's pressure not to lose an in-state quarterback," said Terry Bowden, who also coached at Auburn and Division II North Alabama. "If the kid's not ranked high, I don't think you have to take one. But I think if the kid is a bona fide four-star or five-star prospect, there's a lot of pressure from boosters and fans to get him. There will be a lot of pressure if you have a top prospect in your state."

As much as any FBS programs in the country, Alabama and Auburn have traditionally relied on homegrown prospects to lead their football teams. Over the past 25 seasons, 10 of the 15 players who have started more than one game at quarterback for the Crimson Tide were from Alabama high schools. Auburn has had five Alabama natives start at quarterback during the past 15 seasons.

For a state with a much smaller population (4.8 million) than recruiting hotbeds like California, Texas, Florida and Ohio, Alabama has produced its share of great quarterbacks. Former Alabama quarterback Bart Starr, who played at Sidney Lanier High in Montgomery, Ala., led the Green Bay Packers to victories in Super Bowls I and II. Former Crimson Tide quarterback Ken Stabler, from Foley, Ala., led the Oakland Raiders to a victory in Super Bowl XI.

This past season, four Alabama natives were quarterbacks on NFL rosters: the Seahawks' Tarvaris Jackson (Montgomery), Falcons' John Parker Wilson (Hoover), Chargers' Philip Rivers (Athens) and Vikings' Joe Webb (Birmingham).

In addition, Alabama sophomore AJ McCarron, who played at St. Paul's Episcopal School in Mobile, Ala., guided the Crimson Tide to a 21-0 victory over No. 1 LSU in the Jan. 9 Allstate BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans.

McCarron was the latest homegrown quarterback to lead Alabama to a national championship. Of the Crimson Tide's 14 teams that won national championships, an Alabama native was the starting quarterback on nine of them.

There have been exceptions, such as legendary Crimson Tide quarterback Joe Namath, who former Tide coach Paul "Bear" Bryant plucked from Beaver Falls, Pa. Namath led Alabama to a national championship in 1964. Greg McElroy, who played his high school ball in Southlake, Texas, guided the Tide to a national championship in 2009.

"The starting quarterback at Alabama is more popular than the governor," McCarron said.

Over the past 15 seasons, the Tigers have left the state searching for quarterbacks more than the Crimson Tide. Of Auburn's 15 starting quarterbacks since 1997, five have been Alabama natives. The Tigers have had nearly as many quarterbacks from Georgia (four) as their home state.

Auburn's most famous quarterback, 1971 Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan, played at John Carroll Catholic in Birmingham. Cam Newton, who won the 2010 Heisman Trophy and led the Tigers to a national championship in his only season at the school, attended Westlake High School in Atlanta. Newton played two seasons at Florida and one at Blinn College in Texas before enrolling at Auburn.

Terry Bowden said there's more pressure on schools to sign in-state quarterbacks than any other position.

"People understand recruiting and know who is a four-star or five-star prospect," Bowden said. "They're so involved. They don't want to lose that in-state quarterback. That's one recruiting battle you can't lose."

Fans take more pride in cheering for homegrown quarterbacks, but there's more pressure on them, too.

"I just want to say that playing quarterback at Alabama is extremely hard," Crimson Tide center William Vlachos said. "The scrutiny and the pressure and the expectations that you deal with on a daily basis is something that I couldn't imagine. It's something that I have to deal with playing center. I couldn't imagine having to deal with on a level of playing quarterback."

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball