TUSCALOOSA — Alabama got its most prized target, holding off a divisional rival.
Five-star cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. signed scholarship papers with the Crimson Tide on Wednesday morning, becoming the cornerstone of a 2018 recruiting class designed in part to replenish a depleted secondary.
Surtain is the No. 1 cornerback in the country, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, and the No. 6 overall player in the 2018 recruiting class. He was one of just two top-10 recruits in the ESPN300 who did not sign during the early signing period.
The other, Surtain’s American Heritage High School teammate and fellow cornerback Tyson Campbell, committed to Georgia during the same signing day ceremony.
“Why Alabama?” Surtain said on ESPNU, moments after his announcement. “They win championships. And, over here, we’re used to winning championships. I wanted to be a part of that.”
Listed at 6-foot-2, Surtain is the tallest of Alabama’s five defensive back signees, a prospect who understands how to use the frame and, according to his new coach, fits his meticulous style of defensive back play.
“Patrick is a little longer type guy, the kind of guy we like here,” Saban said Wednesday. “(He) uses his length well, has good ball skills, good ball judgement, can play man-to-man, not afraid to get up and press people — that's a good style for him and that's our style here.”
Surtain and 6-foot-1 Saivion Smith are widely viewed as the two most ready-to-play signees of the Crimson Tide’s 20-man haul.
Smith began his collegiate career at LSU — he was a five-star prospect when he signed with the Tigers and the No. 1 cornerback in the 2016 recruiting class — before transferring to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Now, another No. 1 cornerback joins the fray, an abundance of riches for a Crimson Tide team that lost its entire starting secondary from a national championship team.
“We felt really, really good about the five guys we were able to attract at that position,” Saban said of the defensive back haul. “Those guys are going to have a great opportunity to compete on our team.
Surtain is the son of three-time Pro Bowler and 11-year NFL veteran defensive back Patrick Surtain, a New Orleans native who spent most of his career with the Miami Dolphins. Surtain was a free agent when Saban was named the Miami coach, departing before he could play for the first-time NFL head man.
Now his son has that opportunity, after a recruiting battle was waged between two SEC Western division rivals.
“He’s going to the most prominent university,” Surtain Sr. told The Advocate from the ceremony.
The family’s Louisiana ties — and some Crimson Tide staff overhaul — made Alabama’s pursuit arduous. Surtain Jr. publicly named home-state LSU the leader in his recruitment in mid-October.
Both Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley departed shortly after the CFP Championship Game, too, though Saban is known to also work extensively with his team’s cornerbacks.
Saban and tight ends coach Joe Pannunzio visited Surtain Jr. on Jan. 16, three days before the prospect and his extended family, including his father, arrived in Tuscaloosa for an official visit — during the program’s national championship parade and celebration at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“I’m still torn, because I have such a love for LSU,” Surtain Sr. told The Advocate. “Everybody was expecting him to go to LSU.”
Tigers coach Ed Orgeron told reporters in Baton Rouge on Wednesday that Surtain Jr. phoned him at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night to inform him he’d sign with Alabama.
“Alabama came in,” Surtain Sr. said, “and he just couldn’t pass on it.”