What Alabama football's Nick Saban (and recruits) missed during NCAA's 15-month dead period

Jerell Rushin
The Tuscaloosa News

College football coaches, including Nick Saban, are excited that the lifeblood of their programs has returned in the form of in-person recruiting. As of June 1, the NCAA's 15-month dead period has finally expired.

Saban and the Alabama football staff have virtually courted recruits since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, and it has worked. With the NCAA finally lifting the dead period that was imposed due to the pandemic, Saban's football camps begin Wednesday, and he'll get in-person looks at prospects again.

“It’s critical," Saban said. "When everything went dark (due to COVID-19) the biggest difference last year was that we couldn’t have camps, but most of the guys we were recruiting had at least been on campus, visited the facilities, maybe been in a (2019) camp.

"This year, most of the guys we are recruiting, we haven’t had a chance to know them in person." 

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A lot to gain on both sides

Super Eleven player from Northridge High, Kenton Jerido.  [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Northridge High School two-way lineman Kenton Jerido has been extended handfuls of Group of 5 offers since receiving his first in March. The 6-foot-3, 305-pound senior also has interest from Auburn, but things could be moving slow because virtual recruiting can't paint the entire picture.

On-campus camps provide coaches hands-on opportunities to evaluate how players perform against similar talent, respond in competitive spaces and handle adversity. If the dead period wasn't lifted now, Jerido may have never gotten the chance to leave Auburn coaches with something more to think about.

"I’m going to go to Auburn because they like me, but they want to see me in person – I think they think I’m too short," Jerido said. "So I've got to show them that size don’t really matter. Right now I’m just waiting on that first Power 5 (offer)."

With one year remaining in his high school career, Jerido has never had an on-campus visit, so this summer is crucial. The end of the dead period gives programs a better way to grade recruits' character, attitude and fit inside their cultures than the virtual era ever could have.

"We’ve had no camps in 2020, no game visits, no junior day," Saban said. "This is our first opportunity to meet personally with them, and their first opportunity to be around us. We’ve done it all through Zoom calls and video so far."

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Jerido plans on participating in a Mississippi State camp June 4 and said Wake Forest and Duke want him at theirs, too.

"That’s what I’m excited about because I’ve never experienced it before," Jerido said. "With these camps, all I’m going to do is go out there and show out, try to get more offers. That’s what I’m working for and just a great experience."

A better appreciation

Carver-Montgomery's Jaquavious 'Qua' Russaw, a three-star edge rusher as ranted by 247Sports in the Class of 2023, watched a few teammates struggle through the recruiting landscape last year. Through dead periods and a rush of transfers, some lower-tier high school seniors were lost without a roster spot.

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For Russaw, the experience gave him perspective. He said he's going to remind himself to be patient and wait for the right opportunity. He currently has offers from Auburn, Texas and LSU, and is looking for a family-like environment in addition to a school that offers his chosen field of study, physical therapy.

"I think it's kind of exciting," Russaw said, "I've never gotten to experience vising colleges and going to camps."

Holtville's Drew Pickett (8) carries the ball against Sylacauga on the Holtville campus in Deatsville, Ala., on Friday evening October 23, 2020.

It's a similar feeling for Holtville running back Drew Pickett. After bursting onto the scene with 1,000 yards in his first eight games, he anticipates his June to be filled with a few trips in lieu of the virtual tours that recruits had to settle for last summer.

"But you can give all the video tours you want, when you actually have them here to see everything – the facilities, the stadium, all of it – that’s when it’s different," Saban said.

Ahead of his junior season, Pickett has improved his pass-catching skills to become a more complete back. Ole Miss, South Carolina and Duke have already identified him as a prospect, he said. He stayed motivated throughout the past year knowing that, despite recruiting roadblocks, his play would set him apart.

"I wasn't too worried," Pickett said, "I know as long as I did what I had to do (coaches) were going to find me."

3/24/21 MFB Spring Practice 3
Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban 
Photo by Kent Gidley
3/24/21 MFB Spring Practice 3
Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban 
Photo by Kent Gidley

Under-the-radar prospects see a boost

Etowah coach Ryan Locke has been on both sides in coaching. He's currently leading the high school program in Attalla, but he's also spent time in the college ranks. 

While at West Georgia and Cumberland, Locke spent seven years on the road recruiting. How much would the dead period have affected him?

"It would have been difficult because you have to go strictly off film evaluation," Locke said. "If you can't see a kid in person and be able to judge height and weight, be able to have a verbal conversation and all of those things – they all go into the recruiting process. That was a big chunk of things taken out."

Not being able to see prospects in person would have kept him from signing players from programs that aren't typically recruited.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban leaves the field after their win against Ohio State in an NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Alabama won 52-24. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

"I signed a couple of kids that nobody else knew about because you get out to schools that are not easy to travel to," Locke said. "A lot of people don't go there. That's an opportunity for those kids to be seen and recognized."

Etowah High School in Attalla had four seniors from the 2020 class sign with Division I schools. It worked out well for each, but did the long dead period cost them more scholarships?

"I think that's a possibility that it could have," Locke said. "The evaluation process wasn't as clean as the high school or college coaches would've liked."

Cecil Hurt, Teddy Couch, Nicholas Alvarez contributed to this story.

Follow Jerell Rushin on Twitter @JerellRushin and email him at jrushin@gannett.com.