Originally created 02/02/05

Auburn, Alabama focus on top recruits



MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Auburn's perfect season certainly caught the attention of some high-profile prep players but it also proved Tommy Tuberville's definition of a "blue chip" recruit is a pretty good one.

"We look at character and attitude as well as athletic ability," Tuberville said Tuesday.

He's hoping to score high marks in each of those standards on national signing day Wednesday, the first day high school prospects can sign letters-of-intent to play for their chosen team.

Alabama's Mike Shula, meanwhile, was able to emphasize with recruits the program's new stability and signs that it is headed in the right direction with a return to the postseason.

"I think people saw what the future could be like at Alabama and those things appeal to the guys who are committed to us," Shula said.

Auburn was still awaiting a decision from at least one recruit, Pompano Beach, Fla., cornerback Walter McFadden. Tuberville said he expects to sign only about 20 players.

"We wanted to save a few for next year because next year's going to be a real good year in the state," he said. But, he added, because of the publicity surrounding the 13-0 record "a lot more doors were open across the country."

"We got a lot of calls from a lot of real good players, some that we looked at, some that we didn't."

The Crimson Tide drew a pair of late verbal commitments this week, from Tallahassee, Fla., running back Roy Upchurch, and Prattville High School defensive end Bobby Greenwood.

Upchurch was Alabama's third running back commitment, a major need with Ken Darby and Aaron Johns the team's only scholarship tailbacks. The group was also expected to be heavy on offensive and defensive linemen, defensive backs and includes two commitments at quarterback.

Shula was able to tout Alabama's trip to the Music City Bowl after a two-year postseason absence and a more settled situation once the coaching turnstile stopped spinning.

He said recruits were able to sense a new calm from the current players during their campus visits.

"I think the recruits see that," Shula said. "There's been so much change here and now they're not seeing that."

The program also is on the road to recovery from NCAA sanctions with its available scholarships returning to normal. Shula is expected to sign 30-plus players, some of whom either aren't expected to qualify academically or could enroll part-time and join the team after the season.

The Tigers' top commitment is linebacker Tray Blackmon of LaGrange, Ga. Blackmon was listed as one of the nation's top prospects by Rivals.com (No. 17) and Max Emfinger (14).

Auburn also fared well in the in-state battles, led by tight ends Gabe McKenzie of Davidson High School in Mobile and Tommy Trott of Montgomery's Trinity Presbyterian. The Tigers won their first Southeastern Conference title since 1989 and finished No. 2 nationally - a runner-up position that fueled even more publicity with Oklahoma and Southern California playing for the national title.

Tuberville said the in-state commitments fit well into Auburn's recruiting criteria.

"We're very picky about what we do in recruiting," he said. "We don't go by any lists or magazines or Internet services. We do our own evaluation, our own background checks academically as well as character-wise.

"As it showed for us this year, we were able to win a lot of games just by how our players handled themselves, motivated themselves and how consistently they played because of that."

The Tigers aren't expected to sign any running backs or quarterbacks with a number of young players at both positions but loaded up on tight ends, defensive backs and linemen.