Alabama bests Auburn in recruiting battle

Rashaan Evans had decided Tuesday night before going to sleep where he was going to play his college football. He was still certain Wednesday morning when he woke up.

But, just in case, the highly coveted Auburn (Ala.) High recruit packed two different football caps in his backpack before he went to announce his decision at a media conference on Wednesday's National Signing Day.

Evans, the top unsigned player in Alabama and rated as the No. 2 outside linebacker in the country, spurned hometown Auburn University -- the national runner-up -- to sign with in-state archrival Alabama.

"When I was up there at the podium, I was thinking, 'Man, maybe I should go to Auburn,'" Evans told ESPN.com. "But then I really thought about it, and Alabama was the best place for me."

How does the Crimson Tide sneak into the backyard of its rival, which beat Bama last season and went to the BCS game? Perhaps presciently, Alabama had stolen away Evans' 2012 teammate Reuben Foster a year ago. Their friendship played a part in his decision, Evans said.

"He's a great guy who went through the same type of thing that I went through when he was in high school, which was a little bit worse," Evans said. "He just told me to follow my heart, pick the right school for me."

But two caps in the bag at the morning of the announcement? Such is the pressure on elite recruits and college coaches in Alabama, a state that produces its share of Saturday stars.

Consider that Alabama has won three BCS championships and Auburn one in the past five seasons -- and lest we forget, the Tigers' BCS bid last season was foiled largely by Florida State's Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston -- the Hueytown (Ala.) High quarterback who got away from the state powers.

No wonder recruiting has become a 365/24/7 proposition and that fans follow it fervently and anxiously until the receipt of National Letters-of-Intent or scholarship papers are confirmed by the school.

Evans' commitment solidified Alabama's No. 1 spot for the 2014 recruiting season. Alabama already has commitments from five of the top 15 players in the ESPN 300. Among other top signees in the class of 27 are Hoover High's Marlon Humphrey, son of former Tide running back Bobby Humphrey, and the No. 5 cornerback prospect; the nation's No. 1 offensive tackle, Cameron Robinson from Louisiana; the No. 2 defensive end in Da'Shawn Hand of Virginia; the No. 2 cornerback, Tony Brown of Texas; and the No. 2 athlete in Bo Scarbrough, a Tuscaloosa native who finished his playing career at IMG Academy in Florida. All are rated 5-star recruits by ESPN.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said Evans -- rated as a 4-star prospect by ESPN -- will fill a need for more athletic, "quick-twitch" edge rushers to counter the spread offenses.

"He's a good fit for us," Saban said. "I talked to him this morning and I felt really good about where he was in his decision making. We had lots of conversations with his family because they were concerned with their situation with where they are and how people would react to it.

"And I said no matter how many people you make unhappy there you're going to make a lot of people happy here."

With a smile, he added Foster indeed claimed credit for landing Evans.

Somewhat surprisingly, Saban looked to the junior college ranks this time around. He said that was because of all the early departures to the NFL that left Alabama "really a young team. We needed to get quality people on both sides of the ball on the line, but we felt it was important to get some guys with a little more maturity about them."

With quarterback AJ McCarron departing, Alabama landed Oklahoma high school quarterback David Cornwell, the No. 4-rated pocket passer by ESPN. He will join Florida State transfer Jake Coker. Coker, originally from Mobile, counts against this class and, once he graduates this spring, will be eligible in 2014.

Alabama also addressed a glaring special teams need with Colorado prep kicker JK Scott, the No. 5-rated kicker.

But don't feel too badly for Auburn. No "5-stars" are in the class but the Tigers landed the nation's No. 8 class, led by Alabama's Mr. Football, running back Racean "Roc" Thomas from Oxford. Thomas was rated as the No. 5 running back by ESPN.

"I really feel like we filled our needs. We have guys who can help us immediately ... and with depth." said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn at his post-signing day conference. "Very excited about this class. It's been a very good day."

Malzahn said he believes Thomas "has the ability to come in and make an immediate impact" as the Tigers seek to replace the NFL-bound Tre Mason.

Other notables include D'haquille Williams of Mississippi Gulf Coast JC, rated by the ESPN as a No. 1 wide receiver. Braden Smith of Kansas, rated as the No. 6 guard, was a signing-day announcement.

"That's a big one right there," Malzahn said.

No. 2-rated pocket passer Sean White of Florida was another of the 17 4-star recruits Auburn picked up in its 24-player class.

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said White was the No. 1 on Auburn's quarterback list from the start.

"He is probably the class of the country at quarterback," Lashlee told AuburnTigers.com. "He's a better athlete than most people realize. He's the most accurate passer I've seen out there. The bottom line is all he does is win and prove people wrong."

Added Malzahn: "He really has the 'it' factor."

Malzahn dipped into the junior college ranks for a couple of defensive players who should help right away, No. 2 defensive tackle DaVonte Lambert from Georgia Military College and No. 1 outside linebacker Derrick Moncrief of Mississippi Gulf Coast, who prepped at powerhouse Prattville High.

The Tigers closed out the day on a high note, landing 4-star defensive end Andrew Williams from Georgia. Williams, 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, picked the Tigers over Clemson and Georgia.

Defensive line coach Rodney Garner said Williams "wants to be great. It's fun to coach guys who want to be great."

No doubt, Malzahn was disappointed in losing Evans from under his nose, but he made no direct comment.

"We're very excited about the guys we have," he said. "We focus on the guys that are here."

There was less drama on signing day this year than in some years. Perhaps that's because, although Alabama and Auburn still battle for the top players in state, both schools have begun recruiting regionally and nationally to find the elite players that will help keep them in the national championship hunt.

Of this year's class, 19 of Alabama's 27 recruits are from out of state and 16 of Auburn's 24 are from outside Alabama.

Still, winning the battles in your home state is what fuels the top programs, and Alabama landing Evans -- an unexpected steal from Auburn High -- and Humphrey -- a virtual foregone conclusion as a "legacy" recruit -- keep the Tide on top of Auburn in this recruiting battle.

And on top of everyone else, too.

Alabama's top signees:

--Cameron Robinson OT West Monroe, La. 6-5/330

--Da'Shawn Hand DE Woodbridge, Va. 6-4/262

--Tony Brown DB Beaumont, Texas 6-0/196

--Bo Scarbrough ATH Northport, Ala. 6-2/215

--Marlon Humphrey DB Hoover, Ala. 6-0/179

Auburn's top signees:

--Racean Thomas RB Oxford, Ala. 5-11/202

--D'haquille Williams WR Miss. Gulf Coast CC 6-3/210

--Sean White QB Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 6-1/199

--Tre Williams LB Mobile, Ala. 6-2/217

--Braden Smith OG Olathe, Kan. 6-6/285

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