BOCA RATON – Lane Kiffin may live and coach in one of college football’s premier recruiting destinations, but there’s a reason he keeps sending his assistant coaches to his former sweet home, Alabama.
“We do our tests and it’s amazing how almost all of our Alabama kids, for whatever reason, are like our top athletes at their position, testing wise,” Kiffin said.
FAU will open camp on Thursday rostering six scholarship athletes from the Yellowhammer State, making Alabama second only to Florida in roster representation. Kiffin and his staff recruited all of them.
All three of the players who’ve been with the Owls for at least one year will be begin fall camp on the two deep.
Junior safety Zyon Gilbert, owner of a 40-inch vertical leap, is entering his second full season as a starer. Alabama native Tim Bonner, a redshirt senior who came to FAU via East Mississippi Community College, will battle for a starting spot at defensive end. Redshirt freshman Marquice Robinson would be in line to be the starting right tackle should the NCAA not grant Auburn transfer Calvin Ashley immediate eligibility.
Three additional Alabama natives joined FAU as part of its 2019 signing class, arriving in Boca Raton over the past few months. Coaches and players rave about quarterback Javion Posey’s athletic gifts. Adarius Tolliver, one of the largest Owls, tested as one of the most athletic offensive lineman. And at least one FAU player compared running back Larry McCammon to former Penn St. and current New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley.
“That’s why Alabama and Auburn are really good jobs,” Kiffin said. “But not just why only they are really good jobs, because there are so many great players around. But even look at the programs under them, what they’ve done. Look at what Troy’s done. Look what UAB just did. There’s a lot of players there.”
Troy’s claimed six Sun Belt conference titles and made eight bowl appearances in its 15 years as a member. After dropping football for two years, UAB is 19-8 in the two years since reviving the program, going to bowls both years.
So why isn’t Alabama considered more of a recruiting goldmine? For starters, a trip down the Alabama recruiting trail isn’t nearly as cost effective as a trip to Florida. The estimated population of South Florida (Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties) alone exceeds 6 million people. The entire state of Alabama, by contrast, only approaches 5 million people.
Energetic recruiters can easily visit a handful of South Florida high schools on any given day because they are located so closely together. That’s not nearly as easy to do in rural Alabama.
“There’s way more players here, but this [area] is way more recruited,” Kiffin said. “You can go to a school up there and they maybe all spring had 10 college coaches come through. You can go to school down here and they’ve had 100 colleges coming through because everybody recruits down here. There’s not as many people, obviously, but I think there’s a lot of diamonds in the rough up there.”
And it helps FAU that Kiffin, who won a national title as Alabama’s offensive coordinator before accepting the Owls’ head coaching job following the 2016 season, has name recognition in that fertile state – especially for offensive skill position players like McCammon.
“I’m sure if you asked him, a lot of his decision to go from Birmingham, Alabama to here was watching our offense at Alabama,” Kiffin said.