January 12, 2012

Early enrollees look to make an early impact

Last year, the University of Alabama welcomed eight early enrollees from its 2011 recruiting class, and half of them made significant contributions in the Crimson Tide's BCS title run this season, a list that included Quinton Dial, Trey DePriest, Vinnie Sunseri and Jesse Williams.

On Wednesday, eight new recruits from the 2012 class enrolled at Alabama for the spring semester, all with the intentions of playing next year for UA.

The group is highlighted by Rivals100 wide receivers Chris Black and Amari Cooper and five-star running back T.J. Yeldon. With imminent departures at both positions, the trio of offensive playmakers expects to make an early impact for when they get to Tuscaloosa.

"I'm real excited," Black said. "It's another step to reach my dreams. I just want to get up there, work hard, see where everything is at and try to compete for a starting position. I think it will help me out a lot, getting here, learning the plays, learning the system and being around the guys."

Black played through a hamstring injury during his senior season at First Coast High School in Jacksonville, Fla. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound wideout skipped the Under Armour All-America Game to rest up and get healthy, knowing that he was going to enroll early.

"It was just something that I played through my senior season, and I had to make the decision of whether or not to play in the game or not," Black said. "I decided to sit out and take all the time I can to rest up. At this point, I'm fine now."

Cooper, who also hails from Florida, not only played in the Under Armour game but enjoyed a breakout performance with a 75-yard touchdown catch and a 93-yard punt return for a score. He, too, is looking to start as a freshman for the Tide.

"I feel like if I go up there and do what I know I can do, it will be easy for me to start early," Cooper said. "My biggest thing is learning the plays because I feel like I have the ability to go out there and play early."

The most talented of all of the newcomers may be Yeldon, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound back who rushed for 2,193 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior at Daphne High School.

The in-state star flipped his commitment from Auburn to Alabama in December because he felt like he had a better opportunity at UA. Now, he's hoping to put the switch behind him, so he can go out and prove himself on the field.

"It's all depending on Trent (Richardson), obviously, but assuming that he does leave early, T.J. has a great opportunity to come in there and play and get those second and third carries that Eddie (Lacy) and Jalson (Fowler) got this year," Daphne assistant coach Mike Vickery said.

"I think the main thing with T.J. and what T.J. brings to the table is that he's so versatile with the number of positions he can play and his knowledge of the game. He can line up in so many different spots, and he's comfortable all over the field. That really puts him ahead of a lot of other guys that are stuck in one role. I think he'll be on the field from day one in some capacity."

Alabama's defense also expects to lose a number of players after this year, whether it be seniors or players leaving early for the NFL Draft. Those departures will leave holes that could potentially be filled by the incoming group of early enrollees.

Yeldon's teammate at Daphne, Ryan Anderson, also hopes to come in early and compete for playing time at the Jack linebacker position, a position that was anchored by senior All-American Courtney Upshaw.

"The Jack position is kind of an unsettled position right now with Courtney leaving," Vickery said. "The guys that are there now will have the first shot at it, but I think Ryan plays with a chip on his shoulder. He's not going to stay on the sidelines very long without forcing his way on the field just by his motor and the way he practices. His goal is to play and play now, and I think their goal for him is to play now."

The UA coaching staff also welcomes two junior college defensive backs, Deion Belue and Travell Dixon. With the Tide losing DeQuan Menzie, Phelon Jones, Mark Barron and possibly Dre Kirkpatrick, the chance to play early in the secondary is available for the two newcomers.

Buford, Ga. linebacker Dillon Lee and 340-pound nose tackle Alphonse Taylor, who switched his commitment from Florida State to Alabama last month, round out the list of early enrollees.

Below is a breakdown of all eight newcomers.

Ryan Anderson
Position: Linebacker
Hometown: Daphne, Ala.
High School: Daphne High School
Quick note: Anderson played multiple positions as a senior, finishing with 104 tackles, 32 for a loss and 12.5 sacks.

Deion Belue
Position: Defensive back
Hometown: Tuscumbia, Ala.
Junior College: Northwest Mississippi Community College
Quick note: Belue committed to Alabama out of high school in 2010.

Chris Black
Position: Wide receiver
Hometown: Jacksonville, Fla.
High School: First Coast High School
Quick note: Black plans to wear No. 1 when he gets to Alabama.

Amari Cooper
Position: Wide receiver
Hometown: Miami, Fla.
High School: Miami Northwestern High School
Quick note: Cooper's teammate Artie Burns, a 2013 prospect, is also committed to Alabama.

Travell Dixon
Position: Defensive back
Hometown: Miami, Fla.
Junior College: Eastern Arizona Junior College
Quick note: Dixon is ranked No. 3 overall in the final JUCO Top 50 rankings.

Dillon Lee
Position: Linebacker
Hometown: Buford, Ga.
High School: Buford High School
Quick note: Lee's teammate, tight end Kurt Freitag, is also committed to Alabama and will enroll over the summer.

Alphonse Taylor
Position: Defensive tackle
Hometown: Mobile, Ala.
High School: Davidson High School
Quick note: Taylor switched his commitment from Florida State to Alabama on Dec. 23.

T.J. Yeldon
Position: Running back
Hometown: Daphne, Ala.
High School: Daphne High School
Quick note: Yeldon finished with 52 total yards in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Reach Greg Ostendorf at greg@tidesports.com.



 

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