Why Alabama football is a perfect fit for Carver 5-stars James Smith, Jaquavious Russaw
Aside from ESPN's presence, James Smith and Jaquavious Russaw's commitment ceremony was about as straightforward as commitment ceremonies go.
The pair of G.W. Carver five-star defenders took the stage about 15 minutes before they were set announce to their college choice on ESPN2, milling around while a crew attached microphones to their suits and got the cameras ready. Their coach, Marcus Gardner, gave a short speech. Then, the pair each said a few words before pulling out matching Alabama hats.
Smith and Russaw both signed with Alabama football Wednesday afternoon, adding to the Crimson Tide's No. 1-ranked recruiting class. They'll enroll early and be on campus next month, getting right to work for the nation's foremost dynasty. They wouldn't have it any other way.
"They hold each other accountable; they like to go up against each other," Gardner said. "Any time we played a good team, they stepped up to the occasion. They're not gonna shy away."
Recruiting has, for the most part, been uncomfortable for Smith and Russaw. Their personalities aren't made for the spotlight. Their natural environment is on the field or in the weight room, not taking visits or doing interviews. Wednesday, both were relieved to put the process to rest.
"I'm not really a big recruiting guy," Russaw said. "I don't really like talking. I like football."
Added Gardner: "They don't like the glitz and glamour. They're just true football players."
Attention would have been, and will be, on Smith and Russaw no matter which school they had decided on. They're the No. 18 and No. 22 recruits, respectively, in the Class of 2023 for a reason. But their other five finalists would have come with an added level of fanfare.
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Had Smith and Russaw chosen Auburn, they would have instantly become the crown jewels of Hugh Freeze's first recruiting class and sent a message that the Tigers are ready to mount a challenge for in-state supremacy. Georgia, Florida or Ohio State would have rocked the college football world by prying the top two players in Alabama out of state. A commitment to Alabama State might have had a similar impact to Travis Hunter's spurning of the Power 5 for HBCU Jackson State a year ago.
Smith and Russaw aren't the top-ranked players in Alabama's recruiting class. They won't need to be stars right out of the gate — though Gardner and Todd Dowell, who trains them at MadHouse Athletic Training in Montgomery, think they can contribute in their first season. They won't do any interviews for now, as Crimson Tide freshmen are off-limits to media. Their time in Tuscaloosa will be defined by competition with the best of the best; iron sharpening iron.
"We teach them and we preach to them that this business, you gotta play football," Dowell said. "NIL is not your main focus. You're gonna be coached and be coached hard."
While Smith and Russaw were attracted to Alabama's winning tradition, it takes a certain type of player to thrive amid that tradition. Dowell has seen many players intimidated by coach Nick Saban, but in Smith and Russaw's case, Saban's coaching style aligns with their work ethic and mentality. The pair sees Saban as, in Dowell's words, "basically a grandfather figure."
"He's a straightforward person," Smith said. "When it's time to work, it's time to work."
There will be plenty of pressure on Smith and Russaw at Alabama, make no mistake. But it's the kind of pressure they appear custom-built to handle. And if they can handle it, the path from there — work hard, study hard, win titles and go to the NFL — is as straightforward as their commitment was.
"I hear a lot of guys talking about getting back to the grind and the dogs at Alabama," Gardner said. "(Smith and Russaw) are the type of kids, they come ready to work."
Jacob Shames can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 334-201-9117 and on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.