Leave it to brothers from Maryland and a running back from Russellville to ramp up the Iron Bowl anticipation a little more with surprising moves on the first day of the spring signing period for high school football players.
The Crimson Tide signed the last 14 of a 23-member class Wednesday but it was the decisions of two high-profile players who turned Wednesday in a dramatic microcosm of the college football recruiting world.
First, Russellville’s Brent Calloway changed his mind for the second time in a month — Alabama to Auburn and back to Alabama — before faxing his national letter of intent to Tuscaloosa just after 10 a.m.
Less than an hour later, Hyattsville, Md., offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio lobbed the next shell over the bow.
The younger brother of Alabama offensive lineman Arie Kouandjio announced live on ESPNU that he was signing with Auburn just after 11 a.m. It didn’t take another hour before reports of wavering indecision hit the Internet as fax machines in Maryland and Auburn never linked up.
Before the intrigue of silence took over, Arie Kouandjio offered support for younger brother on Twitter.
“My brother before I even played football so congrats bro,” Arie Kouandjio wrote. “Make you pay for it later though lil bro ;) . Much love!”
Reports from Maryland on Wednesday evening indicate Cyrus Kouandjio will wait at least a day before making a final decision.
The day started with Jeoffrey Pagan, a defensive lineman from Ashville, N.C., making a surprising decision to sign with the Tide. The 4-star defensive lineman picked Alabama over Georgia.
For the most part, though, the Bulldogs outdueled the Tide for several of the biggest names in the class. Top running back recruit Isaiah Crowell etched his name in signing day lore when he pulled out a white Bulldog puppy when announcing he’d sign with Georgia over Alabama.
He joined top tight end Jay Rome and cornerback Malcolm Mitchell from Valdosta, Ga., who both previously chose the home-state school over Alabama.
Saban also lost a commitment to Kentucky on Wednesday. Daryl Collins, a receiver out of Gadsden City opted to sign with the Wildcats.
But the biggest news of the day surrounded Calloway’s second change of heart and Cyrus Kouandjio’s sudden indecision.
Saban didn’t wait for the full question before addressing the Calloway situation.
“He was committed to us for a year and he dismissed it for a while,” Saban said. “That’s all. That’s all I can say about that. Then he came back here and visited and decided he wanted to come back here. I mean, it’s tough on these guys. It really is.”
Saban said Calloway would get an opportunity to compete for playing time at running back.
At his signing in Florence, Calloway addressed the meetings he had with Saban on his last minute visit to Alabama on Saturday.
“The same thing he told me from before: He said if my heart wasn’t into Alabama, then I didn’t need to come. If I feel like the school’s for me, then be here,” Calloway said. “He said but either way it goes, they’re going to be behind me 100 percent. They weren’t mad at me when I switched. I did handle it in a way that could have been disrespectful, maybe, and I apologized for that. But I feel like there was no beef there; I feel like it was the same as when I first committed.”
The uncommon level of signing-day surprises overshadowed the rest of the Alabama recruiting class that included top prospects Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, Dee Hart, Trey DePriest and others.
This new class included filling needs on both lines.
On defense, nose guard Jesse Williams and end Quinton Dial — both JUCO transfers as well —could help shore up a defensive line that didn’t play to the level of those on the 2009 national championship team.
“We were extremely athletic up front two years ago, and I don’t know how many sacks we had, but it was pushing 50,” Saban said. “Even though we had some good players and I was pleased with the progress that our defense made, so I’m not in any way trying to be critical, but we weren’t quite as athletic. We didn’t have as many good pass rushers.”
That made recruiting athletic players a priority, so players like Pagan, Xzavier Dickson and LaMichael Fanning a must.
There’s one prime pass-rusher still on the board with consensus No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney waiting to make his announcement on his birthday, Feb. 14. Clowney had 30 sacks as a senior at South Pointe High School in Rock Hill, S.C. His finalists include Alabama, South Carolina and Clemson.
Needing a replacement for departing offensive left tackle James Carpenter, Alabama looked to junior college transfer Aaron Douglas who was a freshman All-American at Tennessee two years ago.
Saban said Douglas provided immediate relief from at that position, but he has only two years of eligibility remaining.
Efforts to land a few high school tackles didn’t go as planned as Saban seemingly made reference to the big fish still on the fence between Alabama and Auburn.
“There were actually three guys today who we felt all could be really good players at that position and we ended up in second place all three times,” Saban said. “Maybe.”
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star.