UAB head coach Trent Dilfer took some time to meet with local reporters Wednesday to talk about his initial experience with the NCAA Early Signing Period.
He still has some work left to do after the Zoom call ended. At the time, Dilfer said 11 recruits had signed and cleared through that athletic program’s compliance department. By the end of Wednesday, he expected the signing class to reach 16 players.
Here’s a look at what Dilfer said during the press conference.
Opening statement: It’s been quite a day for UAB football. I don’t have historical [facts] here, so I don’t want to speak in hyperbole, but I can’t imagine there’s ever been this big of a signing class this early. The early signing period has only been for so long. I think we’re putting together the best class that the school has ever seen. We’ve addressed immediate issues to create competition at certain positions, and kept a bigger eye on building a foundation that is an absolute stone with the freshmen. We believed we’ve added one of the top playmakers, if not the top playmaker in Alabama, in [Prattville High receiver] Kameran Shanks.
We have one of best inside linebackers in the class in Everett Roussaw of Cedar Grove, Georgia [and] a corner/athlete on the same team in Ricky Lee. We believe we got one of the best athletes in the class in Jaylyn Ferguson out of Fort Worth, Texas. Has a chance to develop into an NFL-type length cornerback. We feel really good about a plug-and-play, most likely, starter on the offensive line in Jalen Nettles. We have a really good high-ceiling guard in Alfonzo Leomiti.
We feel really good about some of the local ones. Emmanuel Waller, kind of that outside backer, really good athlete but also the thickness and length to play at the line of scrimmage. The versatility to play against spread teams, but also against big teams. In our conference, we’re going to face all kinds of different offenses, so you have to have versatile athletes.
We have a surprise tonight. We are going to get one of the better players out of Florida. He should be signing tonight. That will hit wires I think 7, 8, 9 o’clock tonight.
I will say this, a lot of this credit goes to Tristan Henderson, our director of recruiting. I walked in, what was it 19 days ago, he had scrambled the board, based on what he felt what my desires were from an athletic profile, personality profile, the football team we wanted to recruit. He had taken a lot of guys off the board [and] put guys on that UAB, typically, hadn’t gone after. We made these guys a priority and have been fortunate enough to commit many of them.
Could you talk more about the role that Tristan Henderson played: Lifesaver. I didn’t know anything about him. I didn’t know anything about how the recruiting operation was set up, it’s not access you get in the interview process. There’s a lot of things you don’t know, until you get in the building. I met him the first day when I addressed the team. He was the first person, I sat with on that Thursday. I remember my wife dropped me off and I just sat with him in that war room until about 3 in the morning. He was getting after it. The trait that I value the most in employees is figure-it-outness. A lot of my employees over the years, the highest achievers, have figure-it-outness. He just got after it. We had healthy discussions, late-night discussions. Neither of us slept for probably a week. As coaches started rolling in, they became the recruiting department. We had two really good interns that were helping with kind of the busy work. Who I kind of empowered early on to take 10 guys and evaluate them. Don’t be afraid of being wrong. We kind of just scotch-taped this thing together on the fly and Tristan was a rock star throughout. He’s proved his worth a million times over and will be part of my team for a long time.
What are your thoughts going through recruiting for the first time? We’re really pumped. This was an early start this morning. Guys started faxing letters in at 6:30 in the morning and we went to bed at 2 in the morning. This was a quick turnaround. We burnt the candle both ends for quite a while. You’re kind of seeing us on the downside of this. We’ve been celebrating in the war room all day long. It’s an exhausting process but it’s worth it. It’s the lifeblood of your program. Everything starts with recruiting and ends at recruiting. I knew that going in, there were skeptics. I will say this, my daughter drove down yesterday to hang out with me. [She] asked me, just before she left, ‘What was it like? We all figured you knew how to do it.’ I said, “It’s like everything in life, it’s connections.’ Recruiting is real glamorous way of saying you’re trying to connect with people. Some you don’t connect with and they move on. Some you have deep connections with and that’s why you end up having a nice partnership. I have not found this to be overwhelming, You have to grind at this. You have to [evaluate] people really well. A lot of time, you’re walking on eggshells, making sure you’re doing the right thing. We have great compliance people. That’s probably the newest thing, is making sure you’re balancing, being as connected with the kids as possible, but also being compliant.
We’re a recruiting department that is literally figuring it out on the fly. But, I made this statement to the staff about six days ago and we rested in this. And it’s really been successful. People are more important than the presentation and product. A lot of these schools are getting kids to commit because of presentation and product. We want them to commit because of the people. Having 18 kids on campus this weekend, the biggest they’ve ever had on a recruiting weekend, was massive to us. We only had 24 kids on campus [over two weekends] and we’re going to commit 16 of them, that’s because of the people. We’re about the people. Nobody is going to beat us on the people and I think these kids are recognizing that. It’s authentic, it’s real. We’re talking to them about life and their development, not just about football. I think that’s where we’re going to dominate recruiting, it’s because I’m bringing the best people in the building.”
Talk a little more about the personal aspect of recruiting: It's not going to be all flash and sizzle. Now, we’re doing cool stuff. I think our graphics that we sent out on social media are the best in the country. We’ve been following that. We look at these guys who have endless resources and we’re kicking their tails in graphics. That’s a subcontracted friend of mine, who’s [working] in high school right now. Our UAB graphics team is doing a great deal. We’ll have cool stuff, because people want cool stuff. But, at the end of the day, we’re going to be the right kind of people and be honest with them. I tell every recruit I see, ‘Do not believe a word that comes out of my mouth. Come feel it. If you don’t feel it, we’re not in the right spot.” If they can’t feel the love, if they can’t feel the energy, if they can’t feel the vision, If they can’t feel the standards, they should not commit to us. That’s been the message since day one. I can’t tell you how many coaches and players who have said, ‘Wow.’ I mean that. Do not believe us, but also don’t believe anybody else. Don’t believe the snake oil, right. If you don’t feel it, don’t go. We’ve had a couple who haven’t felt it and I’m excited about that. I don’t want them just to believe my words.
Is it important for the commitments and other players to help in recruiting: I think it’s important on the front end. I think it gets them in the building, I don’t think it closes the door. What closes the door, in my short experience, is people. Parents have to know they’re giving their boys to people who are going to help raise them the right way. You can have players recruit them all you want. But, if the mom, dad, grandma, aunt, uncle, can’t feel it when they’re with us, it doesn’t mean squat. I appreciate that. I hope it continues to happen. Most importantly, we want them on campus, we want them to experience who we are. Some aren’t going to like it and that’s awesome. I really believe this, we are going to lose kids who don’t want this type of development. That’s probably good for both sides.
How much recruiting work is left to do: I think this next period is really important. There will be a brief little, what I call veteran recruiting period, where there are junior college players and portal kids, that we’ve done a lot of work on and we think are good fits. We’re definitely not living in that world. We are supplementing our roster with that world. We use it for that and then it will be back to high school kids. We’re building that foundation. We’re building a 10,000-square-foot mansion with the best foundation you can ever find. That will be the high school football player and that will be the focus in January.
Has it been challenging to work on hiring a staff and recruiting at the same time: That’s been fun and a huge one. What I’ve tried to explain to everybody in the building is everything is important right now, but only a few things are urgent. Those things are fluid as the day goes on. We’re probably working 19-20 hour days, since I got here. I’d say 15 of those hours are urgent around recruiting. The others are hiring a staff. We’ve had people come to me, which has been helpful, instead of me coming to them. I felt like I did a pretty good job, before the hiring process started, of vetting guys through my networks, doing my research and keeping my depth chart about three deep. There are some outstanding coaches on staff already here, that we retained. It’s been challenging but exhilarating at the same time, because those become victories, too. If you look at this from a competitive standpoint, in a win-loss column, we’ve stacked up a lot of wins in a short amount of time. Wins in recruiting, but also on that front. I’d bet you [offensive coordinator] Alex Mortensen goes down as one of the best staff hires in the country this year. Everybody tried to hire Alex from Nick Saban for the last 7-8 years. Why he chose me, I don’t know. We have a lot of those. I think we’re getting big wins with the coaching hires. I think we’re putting together an elite staff, with an elite recruiting class. Again, win-loss column, I think we’re stacking up a lot of wins.
Is it important for you to recruit local players like Emmanuel Waller and Connor Knight: I think you get Malachi Holt-Bennett back in town is a big one as well. Getting Chris Bracy, out of Mobile area, and there is more. We made that the focus. The only reason I was in Nashville first was because I had my banquet. That was really a drive-by. I started in Mobile. Alex, Nick [Coleman] and Reilly [Jeffers] started in Birmingham. I already made phone calls in Birmingham and knew a lot of the coaches here. I was doing it off the phone. We made Mobile a priority, right off the jump. Montgomery, we’ve been through there and made that a priority. We’ll continue to make it the highest priority. But, we’re also looking for the best player in Alabama. That’s a message I want everybody to hear very clearly. If they choose to go to the University of Alabama, that’s awesome they get that opportunity and I’ll celebrate that. Outside of Alabama, we believe we’re their best option. That’s something we’re going to be steadfast on. We’re going to try to recruit best players in the state. We’ll try to develop relationships with the coaches, be honest with them. That’s something I’ve got feedback so far on, they feel like they can trust me. I’ve earned their trust in a short amount of time and we’ll continue to earn it at a deeper level. I’ve tried to meet as many Alabama high school coaches, as possible, and I will continue to do that. You’ll see this next period that I’ll be engaged deeply with the high school coaches in this state. I think, because of that, we’re going to have success in this state.
You were candid about steering players away if they don’t fit. Can you elaborate on that approach: People ask me how I’m dealing with the potential portal issues, both this year and next year. I think one way to handle that is who you recruit. You want to recruit people who want to put a ring on it and just don’t want to date you. You want to recruit like-minded kids, families. You want to recruit kids who have extremely high standards put on them in their high school academic career, athletic career or at home, because of the standards they’re going to have here. My point being is there are going to be kids who are really talented kids, like off-the-chart talented kids, who aren’t going to be the best fit for us. Why are we trying to get that kid on campus? So, he can be miserable for a year and then end up going somewhere else? We don’t want that to be one of the things that happens at Blazer football. We want kids that bought in for the long haul. That are willing to do hard things, that are willing to climb a high mountain, that are willing to be uncomfortable. The kids that don’t fit us, we’re going to let them know that this probably isn’t the best place for you, even if they want to come here. I think there are going to be kids who are, ‘I really want to be developed into a NFL player and I know those coaches can do it, but I don’t want to work that hard.’ That’s fine. We don’t want you to discover that once you’re here. You might as well discover it before you commit. That’s how we’re dealing with it.
Chris Bracy, St. Paul’s, Mobile, 6-1, 185, S
Jaylyn Ferguson, Southwest HS, Fort Worth, Texas, 6-4, 160, DB
BJ Hawkins, Navarro (Texas) JC, 5-11, 185, WR
*Malachi Holt-Bennett, Indiana University, 6-3, 190, WR
Jamarcus Jones, Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, 6-5, 220, LB
Connor Knight, Hewitt-Trussville, 6-2, 275, DL
Ricky Lee III, Cedar Grove (Georgia) HS, 5-11, 170, Athlete
Alfonzo Leomiti, Los Alamitos (California) HS, 6-4, 300, OL
Jalen Nettles, Northwest Mississippi CC, 6-4,320, OL
Everett Roussaw, Cedar Grove (Georgia) HS, 6-2, 215, LB
Kameran Shanks, Prattville HS, 5-10, 175, WR
Eamon Small, Lady’s Island, South Carolina, 6-2, 295, DL
*James Smyre, Marshall University, 6-3, 220 , LB
Amare Thomas, Pinson Valley HS, 5-10, 180, WR
Emmanuel Waller, Oak Mountain HS, 6-4, 240, DE
+List will be updated when signees are official.
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