TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Shawn Jennings is a bit of an aberration on the University of Alabama football team, and it’s not because he doesn’t really have a position yet.
Jennings has an older brother on the roster, Anfernee, a defensive end who redshirted last season. Just like they used to play together at Dadeville High School they’ll now do the same for the Crimson Tide.
"It's something you dream about since playing in the yard when you were kids,” he said “To grow up to play college ball together is just a dream come true."
Nevertheless, among Alabama’s eight early enrollees from the recruiting class of 2016, Jennings and wide receiver T.J. Simmons are the only in-state products. The rest hail from California, Georgia, New York and Texas.
Having such a diverse group geographically is something that head coach Nick Saban has had to sort of balance as the Crimson Tide became a national power again. Alabama will recruit anyone who might help the team regardless of where he might be from (like Australian defensive lineman Jesse Williams a few years ago) but has also managed to land nearly every top in-state prospect as well.
Overall, Alabama considers anything within a five-hour drive of Tuscaloosa to be in its prime recruiting territory, which basically means Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and the panhandle of Florida.
As a result, last year’s national championship team could have been divided pretty equally into three groups based on where everyone was from: in-state, the five-hour radius and everyone else.
Compiled from 247Sports
Saban made that comment when talking about linebackers Ben Davis and Lyndell Wilson, both 5-star products, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, who had the added bonus of being from in-state.
“We thought they were outstanding players,” he added.
With them in tow, the makeup of this latest signing class follows suit. The 25 total players hailed from 12 different states and Washington, D.C. Seven were from Alabama. Another six were from the five-hour radius, including three from Mississippi where Saban hadn’t been having much luck recently.
“Because of the quality of programs that they have in their own state, it’s been a little more difficult lately to get guys to leave their own state,” Saban said after signing cornerback Nigel Knott, defensive tackle Raekwon Davis and tackle Scott Lashley, all considered 4-star prospects.
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Meanwhile, Alabama has managed to keep its vice grip on its own state, which has to remain at the heart of its recruiting efforts.
Since 2008, there have been 19 players in the state of Alabama listed as a 5-star recruit by 247Sports. Of them, Saban signed 15. Of the 72 4-star players, 38 landed with the Crimson Tide.
In comparison, rival Auburn successfully recruited two of the 5-star players and 20 of the 4-star talents (and the discrepancy is even greater with 247’s own evaluations that contributed to the composite rankings that average ratings from numerous recruiting sites). During that time span, it’s had two head coaching changes, but also won a national championship.
Here’s a quick year-by-year look at the in-state recruiting:
2008: Saban’s first full recruiting class included 15 of the state’s top 21 prospects, including the top three of Julio Jones, Tyler Love and B.J. Scott, who were all considered 5-star prospects (Jones became a star, Love never started and Scott transferred). It also landed Tuscaloosa-area products John Michael Boswell and Brad Smelley.
|Year||5-Star Players||4-Star Players|
|2008||3 signed/3 total||6 signed/9 total|
Compiled from 247Sports
2009: Alabama signed the top eight in-state prospects including 5-star players Dre Kirkpatrick, Nico Johnson and D.J. Fluker. The top-rated player to leave the state was No. 13, linebacker D.T. Shackelford to Ole Miss.
2010: Alabama signed the state's only 5-star player, cornerback Dee Milliner, and the next two top prospects, linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Jarrick Williams. Auburn was able to snare defensive end LaDarius Owens, while the top prospect to bolt from the state was Mobile-area wide receiver Solomon Patton to Florida.
2011: It was considered down year for in-state talent, and Alabama focused more on players from beyond the state border. It still signed No. 1 Marvin Shinn, No. 3 Brent Calloway and No. 6 Danny Woodson, but none of them made much of a mark at the Capstone. One player who did was No. 10 Christion Jones.
2012: The biggest in-state departure during the Saban era was quarterback Jameis Winston, who instead went to Florida State and won both a Heisman Trophy and national championship. Going with him was the second-highest rated prospect, wide receiver Chris Casher.
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Outside of the top 10 players, Louisville and Mississippi State hit the state hard and signed six of the next eight prospects.
2016: Alabama added four of the top six players including the only two 5-star players, Davis and Wilson. Auburn’s top get was defensive end Marlon Davidson out of the Montgomery area. His brother Ken Carter is on the Auburn staff and Gus Malzahn said the coaches considered him the top recruit in the state.
Time will tell if he’s correct, but in the meantime the versatile Jennings is getting used to Tuscaloosa and will likely take his initial snaps at safety this spring.
Although he wasn’t rated as a top prospect, 19th in the state and No. 599 nationally, he’s been surprised at how close everyone is on the team and Jennings is eager to show that he belongs.
"I don't care where I play. I just want to play," he said.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting ratings are from 247Sports.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.