TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Believe it or not, the University of Alabama football program did a lot more “scoring” after last Saturday’s A-Day game than during its final scrimmage of spring football.
In the realm of recruiting, it was the equivalent of seeing a pinball machine light up.
It began with Minkah Fitzpatrick, a 5-star cornerback rated the 30th-best player in the nation by 247Sports, making his expected commitment to the Crimson Tide shortly after the 17-14 game concluded.
He was followed by two of the top prospects in South Florida, teammates Shawn Burgess-Becker and Calvin Ridley of Pompano Beach (Fla.) Monarch High School, also agreeing to attend Alabama. Ridley, a 6’2” wide receiver, is the No. 41 prospect in the nation, while Burgess-Becker, who could play safety or wide receiver, is 88th.
With all three, assistant head coach and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal was considered Alabama’s point man, causing 247Sports National Recruiting Insider Ryan Bartow to call it “the best performance I've seen from a single recruiter on a non-signing day, day.”
Alabama then added the nation's top-ranked inside linebacker, Leo Lewis, from Brookhaven, Miss., and there were rumblings of a possible fifth addition, but wide receiver Jevon Durante shot down reports that he had flipped his commitment from West Virginia during an unofficial visit.
Even so, the South Florida standout might yet end up joining his 7-on-7 teammates in Tuscaloosa, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that Cristobal is leading the effort to flip him. The former Miami player and Florida International head coach (2007-2012) still has very strong ties to the talent-rich area.
In addition to recruiting for Nick Saban, he has the added advantage of having one of Alabama’s best players hail from the area.
“How would you like to follow in the footsteps of Miami Northwestern star wide receiver Amari Cooper?” is an easy and potent pitch to make.
"If you want to compete in South Florida for talent, you better have one of your best recruiters working down there,” said Barton Simmons, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports. “That’s the case with any program, even Alabama. Right now Alabama is not just competing in South Florida, it’s winning.
“Mario Cristobal is the primary reason for that.”
Considering Saban’s track record, though, no one should be surprised by anything the Crimson Tide does in recruiting, and the coach considers it with every major decision that he makes. A perfect example was the recent building of a new, state-of-the-art weight room, which looks better than anything being used in the National Football League.
What was wrong with the old weight room, one of the biggest in college football? Nothing.
Recruiting’s always a significant factor when adding assistant coaches as well. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Kevin Steele and Lance Thompson are all proven when it comes to recruiting, as were Mike Groh, Jeremy Pruitt and Sal Sunseri before they moved on to bigger jobs. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, Burton Burns and Billy Napier all have strong reputations as well.
After the most recent national signing day in February, Alabama was the unanimous choice among the major recruiting services for having the top class. Moreover, 247Sports has had it No. 1 every year except one (2010) since 2008.
During his initial year on Saban’s coaching staff, Cristobal’s fingerprints were all over the offensive linemen who signed, where the Crimson Tide rated first nationally as a position group.
Headlining the additions was 5-star prospect Cameron Robinson (6’6”, 335 pounds of West Monroe, La.), who enrolled early and was Alabama’s starting left tackle on A-Day. Junior college transfer Dominick Jackson, a tackle, will arrive over the summer along with tackle Ross Pierschbacher, centers JC Hassenauer and Joshua Casher, and guard Montel McBride.
As for the ongoing Class of 2015, Cristobal’s also had a hand in recruiting guards Richie Petitbon, Lester Cotton and Dallas Warmack.
"The players always mention how they love Cristobal's passion and energy,” said Charles Power, who covers recruiting for BamaOnline.com. “He is a very outgoing, but genuine approach and connects well with the players and their families. The parents love him too. They find him very easy to talk to. Multiple top players, including the state's top prospect Daron Payne, continually tell us that their relationship with Cristobal stands out.
“Don't be surprised if he continues to land top prospects at Alabama for the rest of the recruiting cycle, as several top targets, including Payne, remain on the board. He is laying the foundation that helps land the major recruits"
Consequently, for the recruiting Class of 2015, which won’t be set in stone for another 10 months, Alabama is already considered the clear program to beat. In 247’s rankings of the individual recruiters, four of the top five represent the Crimson Tide.
Atop those standings is the 43-year-old Cristobal.
“He’s been a game-changer as a recruiter at every stop he’s made, including at FIU as a head coach,” Simmons said. “Now he’s got Alabama as a disruptive presence throughout the state of Florida while he helps bring in some of the best offensive line classes in the country every year. As a guy who consistently reloads his position group but can still cherry pick elite national talent from his regions, Cristobal is a major force right now for the Tide."
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.