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December 28, 2008

Proximity key for star recruits

MORE: Army All-American Bowl rosters | Army AA Bowl coverage | More all-star coverage

SAN ANTONIO - Playing time is always attractive.

A relationship with coaches is crucial, and academics are important.

Yet, some of the nation's premier high school football prospects that assembled here Sunday for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl indicated their playing careers will continue at a college that most feels like home.

For example, Christine Michael, rated a five-star rated running back from Beaumont, Texas, announced his commitment to Texas A&M because he felt the slower pace of College Station fit his personality.

"As one of the top athletes in Texas, people all over are telling me what school to do to, but that's all their perspective," Michael said. "I prayed and asked God to show me the way. I visited LSU and I didn't fit. It's a hyped-up school and I'm more laid back. A&M has a laid-back atmosphere."

Five-star rated wide receiver Rueben Randle of Bastrop, La., virtually could join any program he wanted. He's already scheduled visits to Alabama, Oklahoma, LSU and Oklahoma State and that down home intangible is high on his list of requirements.

"I'm looking for the best opportunity coming in as a freshman, the best atmosphere and academic-wise where I'd be most comfortable," Randle said. "And just where I can feel at home."

Of course, different players have different ideas of what feels like home.

For four-star rated quarterback AJ McCarron of Mobile, Ala., that translates to proximity and coaches with whom he can relate.

"Basically, you're trying to feel like home," he said. "A lot of kids - even though (the college) is not far from their house - are still going to get home sick a little. So you want to find a place that feels like home."

That was Alabama for him.

"The coaching staff has some younger coaches mixed in with the older coaches. So you can relate with them," he said.

Madisonville, Texas, running back Chris Whaley, rated a four-star prospect, said he was impressed by the camaraderie at the University of Texas, which is why he chose the Longhorns.

"At first I was undecided but after being down there (in Austin) it felt like a family environment," Whaley said. "It's the way they treat you - it's all buddy, buddy. They treat you like one of their own, like blood. I love my family and he coaches and players there all look after each other."

Even though finding a comfort zone was a common theme the more established concrete attractions - playing time and academics - still will determine what programs land some of the country's most coveted players.

Randle acknowledged he'll be checking depth charts to see what teams had senior receivers and what teams have receivers that may leave early for the NFL draft.

"As a freshman you want to play and you look for the best situation possible - who's there and who's leaving," he said.

That could be encouraging news for programs like Oklahoma, which has senior receivers Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson, or LSU, which has seniors Brandon LaFell and Demetrius Byrd as receiver.

But thinning depth charts won't ensure anything.

"I did that (check depth charts)," said four-star tight end Orson Charles of Tampa, Fla. "And I talked to coaches a little bit. But I'm not going to stop playing. You still have to play that swagger. That's something I look at, but I'm not scared of competition."

Neither is five-star rated offensive tackle Morgan Moses of Richmond, Va., who is looking for a program that will allow him to play as a freshman, which shouldn't be a problem for a 6-foot-7, 327-pounder.

But Moses, who was going to go to Tennessee before coach Phillip Fulmer was fired, said that Alabama wanted him to sit out a redshirt year, which is why the Tide is no longer highest on his list.

"I'm looking to play my freshman year," said Moses, who will take a trip to North Carolina on Jan. 9 and is planning a visit to Ohio State. "First of all, I'm looking for a winning program that puts players at your position into the NFL. And I'm looking for playing time and a coach that's going to be there all the years I'm there."

Well, North Carolina coach Butch Davis doesn't appear to be going anywhere. Ohio State's Jim Tressel isn't either.

There surely would be a feeling of comfort in playing four seasons for the same coach.

Maybe it's a comfortable as going home.



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