Where it lacks in sheer numbers compared to some states for football talent, Alabama more than makes up for it when it comes to intensity, enthusiasm and athleticism.
It can thank one of the nation's fiercest rivalries for that as fans of Alabama and Auburn square off year-round in their second-favorite sport, football recruiting.
Most of the state's top prospects list the Crimson Tide and Tigers prominently among their favorites. Although they saw the top three from last year's class -- Chad Jackson, Jayson Swain and JaMarcus Russell -- sign with other SEC programs, this year looks like the home state schools may be more successful in locking up the talent.
Hartselle wide receiver/defensive back Nikita Stover heads this year's class, which features each primary position group with the notable exception of quarterback.
In this feature, Rivals100 analyst Jeff Drummond gives his feedback on who he believes are the top 10 players in the state for the Class of 2004:
Like Jackson a year ago, Stover is a member of the Rivals100 Team based on his phenomenal athleticism and ability to dominate from a physical standpoint. He's got the size to produce mismatches with smaller DBs, the speed to blow by many of them and soft, sure hands that you'd associate with a "possession receiver." That's a deadly combination, and we haven't even mentioned the fact that he's a state high jump champion. "He's got all the tools," Rivals.com Alabama recruiting analyst Tim Watts said. "If he played at Hoover or one of the state's other top programs, he would be as highly regarded as Chad Jackson last season." As a junior, Stover caught 26 passes for 723 yards and 10 touchdowns. He had more than 1,000 all-purpose yards and scored a touchdown every 2.9 times he touched the ball. That's "playmaker" defined. Alabama appears to be in good shape to land Stover's verbal with Michigan looming as a darkhorse. Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Nebraska and South Carolina are among the other schools with offers under consideration.
The massive Stabler is Alabama's premier offensive lineman and second member of the initial Rivals100 Team. A tenacious blocker, he's displayed the ability to consistently lock up his assignment and drive him out of the play until the whistle blows. He has fabulous feet for a big man. Our highlight film has displayed him pulling from his left tackle position and leading the charge around the right end. "I have been in coaching for 24 years and I have seen a lot of good kids, but B.J. is by far better than anything I have seen in this area as far as ability," Clarke County coach Duane Davis said. "His strengths are his speed - he has good feet, his hips - the way that he can move them in pass blocking, and his overall agility as a big man. He has a great stance and does not look awkward by any means. Once that snap occurs, he is going to get after you until he hears the whistle." Stabler needs to add upper-body strength (275 bench) but has a solid base with good leg drive (500 squat). Auburn has been his favorite school growing up, and the Tigers are the odds-on favorite to land his signature. Keep an eye on Florida's "Big Three," though, as the Hurricanes, Gators and Seminoles also have his attention.
The Crimson Tide roster already features two players from the Britt family - OT Wesley and DT Taylor -- and a third appears all but a certainty to play in Tuscaloosa. Justin Britt drew more early scholarship offers (including Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, Notre Dame) than any other player in the state coming off a junior season which saw him record 112 tackles. He projects as a defensive tackle at the next level, and owns a demeanor that fits that position well. A high motor, toughness and overall physical play define his style. But he's also a fine athlete, as evidenced by his 40 time and 30-inch vertical. If someone manages to pull an upset and lure Britt away from the Tide, look for Georgia and Florida to be in the best position.
4. David Brown Defensive End/Defensive Tackle 6-3, 255, 4.8 Madison Bob Jones
The son of a military father, Brown has been well traveled prior to settling in at Alabama for his high school career. He was born in North Carolina and has spent time living in Kansas, Indiana, Ohio, Canada and Korea, so unlike many of his peers, he doesn't have some of the ingrained rooting interests in the home state powers. It appears that the Crimson Tide hold a slight lead for Brown, who also has offers from Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech. Notre Dame could also get involved with the all-around student-athlete (3.7 GPA, 23 ACT). On the field, Brown has the frame and physical tools to wreak havoc along the line of scrimmage. He projects as a strongside end, but could also bulk up to play tackle. He has a good first step off the ball and often disrupts plays in the backfield. As a junior, he recorded 68 tackles and 11 tackles for loss.
5. Tony Bell Outside Linebacker/Safety 6-2, 210, 4.4 Alabaster Thompson
Bell is one of Alabama's premier athletes and a model of versatility. He earned all-state honors as a junior after recording 97 tackles, five sacks and four interceptions. He added eight touchdowns on offense at running back for good measure, but defense is the name of his game. Bell has the size and strength to excel at outside linebacker, but also runs like a DB and possesses a 37-inch vertical leap, so many scouts think he could also thrive at safety. At either spot, he's known as a big hitter. He recently narrowed his list to four teams: Auburn, LSU, Georgia and Tennessee. He's a native of Memphis and says the Volunteers have always been one of the teams he followed, but a recent camp appearance at LSU appeared to leave him floored, calling it "the best I've ever been to."
Looking for one of the state's fastest players? Don't blink. Manson will have already breezed by. Known as a supreme overall athlete with great upside on the football field, Manson has drawn a dozen scholarship offers including the likes of Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Arkansas and South Carolina. As a junior, he rushed for 1,910 yards and 18 touchdowns. He's also a track and field star, competing in the 55 meters, 100, 200, 4x100, long jump and triple jump. He won the Class 6A state championship in the 55 and long jump as a junior. "Manson is a tremendous athlete that, with his combination of size and speed, has almost unlimited upside potential," Rivals.com Auburn recruiting analyst Will Woods said. "He needs a little polish on some of the finer points of being a running back, but his physical skills make him a must-sign prospect for both of the in state schools." Earlier this spring, Manson appeared to be leaning toward Auburn, but now says he's taking a more "open" approach. Don't look for an early decision as he is already planning a number of official visits and talking about a signing day announcement.
Scholarship offers were initially slow to develop for McCall - surprising many who had seen his terrific physical tools up close - but things have started to develop nicely. Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Louisville and UAB have all offered, and he recently announced that the Crimson Tide hold a slight lead. Auburn, Ole Miss and Florida round out his top five. At this stage in his career, McCall is best known for his blocking ability but has the hands and athleticism to develop into a good pass target as well. "I think he has been the best blocking tight end in the state the past couple of years," Prattville coach Bill Clark said. "He was just dominant. He graded out over 90 percent and had a bunch of pancakes He is a super kid and he takes nothing for granted. In practice, the weight room and in games he is always giving 100%. That is the type of person he is and that is what makes him special."
8. Max Martin Running Back/Outside Linebacker 6-2, 210, 4.5 Madison Bob Jones
Martin became one of the state's early commitments when he returned from a trip to Michigan in late May and announced a verbal to the Wolverines. That may have come as a surprise to some, but like teammate David Brown, he's not a native of Alabama. Martin grew up outside of Chicago before his father was relocated to Alabama in 2001. Michigan is getting a physical specimen in Martin, who rushed for 1,069 yards and nine touchdowns on only 136 carries as a junior. He also had 53 tackles and two sacks in part-time duty at linebacker. Those roles may reverse at the next level as many scouts believe Martin has the best potential on the defensive side of the ball, but Michigan has reportedly told him he'll have an opportunity to start his career at running back. He is in the mold of the big backs that the Wolverines traditionally favor.
Carter is another player who has made an early decision, giving Auburn a commitment in May. Alabama had also made a scholarship offer. He played both tailback and cornerback as a junior, rushing for 700 yards and recording 70 tackles on defense, but projects as a DB at the next level. Fort Payne head coach Dale Pruitt feels that Carter has only touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of his potential. "Marcus is young for his class," he said. "He just turned 16 not long ago, and when he is a freshman in college he will be a year or two younger than most of the other players. Every day he goes on the field he gets a little better and also he is still growing into his body and maturing physically. Once he finishes growing and is in a college weight program, the sky is the limit for him. He will probably play in the 200 to 205-pound range and still be able to maintain his speed."
Castille is a familiar name to Crimson Tide fans. His father, Jeremiah, was one of the all-time greats at Alabama, and his brother, Tim, signed with the Tide in February. It would come as great surprise to see Simeon buck the family tradition. As a junior, Castille played cornerback, recording 107 tackles, 11 pass break-ups and three interceptions. He also averaged 27.9 yards on kickoff returns and 18.8 yards on punt returns. Safety will likely be his position at the next level where his size and 34-inch vertical will come into play. Castille is also known as a "gamer" who loves to win. "He's very competitive like his father," Briarwood coach Fred Yancey said. "Simeon has a strong work ethic and he strives to be his best. He is one of the first players on and off the practice field and he give 100% all the time. His desire is outstanding He has great instincts at cornerback and is very elusive with the ball in his hands. On boths sides of the ball, he is a big-play guy who can change the momentum of a game in one play."