Alabama’s Nick Saban finished with this year’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class in the nation, and it was boosted immensely by the signing of eight prospects from Georgia. One of Alabama’s top imports from Georgia was Kenyan Drake, the AJC Super 11 running back from Hillgrove High School.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Drake committed to Alabama over UGA and Georgia Tech nearly a year before signing day, and never wavered. He reflected on his recruiting journey with the AJC:
What is the most creative thing a college did to get your attention? “There really wasn’t anything too creative, other than the coaches just showing up at my school and coming to see me. I think when [Alabama’s Nick Saban] and [Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson], along with [UGA assistant Bryan McClendon], came to my school and showed me love, I felt like that was one of the most important things in the whole recruiting process.”
Which school finished runner-up to Alabama? “I think it had to be Georgia because I had been a lifelong fan of Georgia, along with Georgia Tech. The one thing that took away from Georgia Tech was that I was not a big fan of the option. So once that kind of came into play, Georgia Tech kind of came in third. With Georgia, I wasn’t sure what would’ve happened if they had a bad season, which they didn’t thankfully they didn’t. I wasn’t sure if the tenure of Coach Mark Richt would’ve held up. I think it was an easier decision to go to Alabama because of [that uncertainty]. I wasn’t sure about Coach Richt’s future at the time, and I wanted to get my recruiting process over because I knew it was going to get real hectic. Once I got an Alabama offer and I wasn’t comfortable with Coach Richt being there for the long run if they had a bad season, then I went ahead and committed to Alabama.”
What if there wasn’t so much speculation about Mark Richt’s future at the time you committed? “I would’ve been a tougher decision because I really liked Georgia and everything they had to offer. So it was going to be … well, I wouldn’t say a tossup. But I would’ve had to have thought about it a little longer. With everything going at Georgia and all the speculation about Coach Richt, and then realizing the stability at Alabama — it wasn’t a hard decision, at that point.”
What was the biggest rumor that wasn’t true about you? “That Georgia didn’t offer me. They offered me before Alabama. Once I committed to Alabama, people had the notion that Georgia didn’t even offer me. I was like ‘That’s not true, at all.’ No, they offered me before Alabama did. It was my junior year after the Brookwood game. We went to the Georgia game against Georgia Tech. I met with Coach Richt after his press conference and he told me he was extending an offer to me.”
Which coach was it the hardest to inform that you were signing with Alabama? “It had to be Georgia Tech [assistant Brian Bohannon]. Because with him, he was the first coach to really recruit me, and because Georgia Tech was the first school to offer me. So I really built up a great relationship with the coaches at Georgia Tech. Not just Coach Bohannon but every coach at Georgia Tech. Once I got the offer from Georgia, I felt like it was a done deal with Georgia Tech, especially after I got the Alabama offer. When I decided to commit, Coach Bohannon was the first coach I called that day because of the close relationship we had. Out of respect for him, I wanted to tell him personally without him having to read on the Internet that I was committing to Alabama. That was the type of relationship we had, and that’s what made it the hardest thing to do in the recruiting process.”
What was your biggest regret in recruiting? “It might’ve been committing early. Even with committing early, I felt like after everything was over, I would’ve been able to handle the recruiting process. It would’ve been something I would’ve looked back and said, ‘I visited this school and that school on official visits.’ But you know, it’s still not a regret because I feel like I got a lot of things out of the way by committing early. But that’s the only thing that comes to mind at the moment.”
If you would’ve not committed early, do you think you still would’ve ended up at Alabama? “I really believe so. There would’ve been more options. But in my mind and in my heart, Alabama was still the best choice out of any schools. That’s why I committed so early.”
What’s the funniest thing a coach said to you? “I can’t think of anything specific. But [Alabama assistant Kirby Smart] is the funniest coach I’ve ever been around. He’s real laid back and down to Earth. You can talk to him about anything, whether it be school, football, or your girlfriend. He will have a conversation with you because he’s that cool and that’s type of person.”
Which non-Alabama coach was the nicest? “Probably coach Mark Richt. He was a very genuine guy. I’m not saying anybody else wasn’t genuine. With Coach Richt, he was really down to Earth and he really showed that he really cares not only about you being a potential student-athlete but also as a person. He comes across in a caring manner which makes you feel really right at home. He’s a pretty good father figure.”
What coach was not the nicest? “Well, I wouldn’t say not the nicest, but I would have to say Coach Saban. But I’m not saying he was not the nicest. He’s really straight forward. You know what I mean? I’m not saying he’s mean but I’m not saying he’s ‘buddy buddy’ with you either. He’s very businesslike. I’m not saying Coach Richt isn’t businesslike but they have two different personalities. Coach Richt is really caring. I’m not going to say Coach Saban isn’t. He’s just real straight forward, to the point and businesslike. And he gives it to you like this, and if it’s not like this, then there’s no other way. With Coach Mark Richt, I feel like he’s more lenient.”
How would you describe your relationship with Coach Saban? “I feel like it’s a very good relationship. At first, he can be intimidating because of the things you read or hear about him. And with his personality, he’s very straight forward. He tells you like it is. But once you get to really know him, it’s different. The chance I got to spend with Coach Saban and his wife during my visit … we got to joke around and have a couple of laughs. You know, people that aren’t really that close to him, or haven’t been in those type of situations, they wouldn’t really understand because they see him as being straight forward. Once you get to see the man, the husband Coach Saban is and the father Coach Saban is, you really get to see what type of person he is.”
Which college coach liked your mother’s cooking the best? “The funny thing is, Alabama was the only school to come in on a home visit. And Coach Saban really insisted that there was no need to make some type of fancy dinner for us to sit down and eat. He really wanted to come over and talk football, and explain his expectations both on and off the field. It wasn’t like any big family gathering but more like a business meeting.”
During the recruiting process, you became good friends with Justin Taylor, who decided to sign with Kentucky rather than take a grayshirt offer from Alabama for next year. What did you think about that whole deal? “I just felt … I don’t know. It was unfortunate how everything ended up. I feel like either way, he would’ve been in a good situation. I don’t know. I can’t really put a comment on everything that happened there because I’m not too familiar with the situation as a whole. I wish him the best of luck at Kentucky because I am pretty good friends with him. I hope everything he’s looking for and everything he’s hoping for, he finds at Kentucky.”
What do you think it will be like to play for a guy that many consider to be college football’s best coach? “It’s like you really don’t want to disappoint him. You see how hard he works and how prepared he is, day in and day out, to be the best at what he’s doing. He’s a very good role model. Once you see everything he’s accomplished and trying to accomplish, it’s almost like all that success is going to rub off on you. Because Coach Saban is your coach, you’re definitely going to strive to be the best you can be, regardless.”
Drake will report to Alabama on May 27, the day after his high school graduation.
DID YOU HEAR?
AJC’S INSTANT RECRUITING CLASSICS
– By Michael Carvell, AJC Recruiting Blog
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