Ronnie Clark is an extremely talented recruit from Calera, Alabama, and it looks like the two in-state powers, Alabama and Auburn, are standing out the most for him on the recruiting trail.
Clark is going to be an exceptional pickup for whichever program does eventually end up landing his signature, so this is good news for Tigers and Crimson Tide fans alike. He has terrific size at 6'3.5'', 210 pounds and runs a 4.59 40 according to 247Sports.
The 247Sports Composite ranks him as the No. 3 outside linebacker in the 2014 class. Rivals.com lists him as an athlete, but Andrew Bone of Rivals refers to him as a safety in this report (subscription required). Speaking of the report, Clark admits that both Alabama and Auburn are recruiting him the hardest, per Bone:
The Tide and Tigers are making it difficult for others to recruit in Alabama.
"Both in-state schools are coming after me probably harder than everyone else," Clark said. "They are in a real battle right now. South Carolina is also coming after me pretty strong. Ole Miss, Mississippi State and USC are sending a lot of mail. It's mostly just been SEC schools though.
"I would say right now it's looking like an in-state battle for me. I still have some decisions to make. I have visits to take. Hopefully I can see how things go this spring. I can take some visits this summer and decide on a fourth school to consider."
He goes on to talk about his thoughts on each program (Bone):
"On Alabama, I just like everything they do down there," he said. "They compete each and every day. All their spots are earned, not given. They don't hand them a starting role. That's how it's supposed to be. The coaches are cool, and good guys. It's a good atmosphere down there.
"With Auburn, everyone pretty much just wants to know how they are going to be with the new coaching staff. Coach Cheese [Charlie Harbison] is a really good guy. He was recruiting me when he was at Clemson. He is a good Christian man. Coach Malzahn is the same way. I feel like they are going to turn the program around."
Clark also discussed what position he wants to play at the college level, which would be safety. Alabama wants him to play wherever he wants to, while Auburn is recruiting him as a safety, all according to Bone's report. It's also worth noting that South Carolina should also be considered a contender for Clark, but there's no doubting the fact that the two in-state programs are the biggest players in this race.
Which program, Alabama or Auburn, would be the best fit for Clark?
Auburn is going to be an interesting choice, especially if that defense takes off with Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel all up front. Auburn's 4-2-5 defense will feature that hybrid third safety position, and Clark would fit perfectly in that role for the Tigers.
That said, the Tigers went out and signed three safeties in 2013, so that need is pretty much taken care of.
Alabama signed 4-star safety Anthony Averett in 2013, and the Tide do have the commitment of 2014 3-star safety Chris Williams, but Alabama will have a need for a safety or two in the coming seasons, as Vinnie Sunseri, Ha Ha Clinton Dix and Nick Perry all eventually move on. Landon Collins will need a talented safety next to him in order to truly be effective, and Clark could definitely compete with Averett and Williams to be that guy.
Considering Alabama seems rather open with him about his position, if safety doesn't work out, he could easily move down to outside linebacker, where he'd also be a good fit in Alabama's 3-4 base.
Factor in Alabama's championship history and aspirations, the chance to be coached by Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide's track record of sending great defensive players to the NFL—and Alabama seems like the best option for Clark.
I still believe Auburn has what it takes to make a strong run for his commitment, and South Carolina will make things interesting, but how many times have we seen elite recruit choose Alabama over the past few years almost by default?
I don't expect the case will be much different for Clark when all is said and done.