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July 3, 2012It's not often an organization enjoys a day like the University of Alabama football program reveled in July 18, 2011.
It was a Monday, and the Crimson Tide was in the middle of its second camp of the summer, a four-day hands-on tutorial for high school players on the Alabama practice fields.
The big news started with a commitment from a little-known 6-foot-5, 225-pound athlete from a small, private school in the Black Belt region of the state. The day became legendary when the South's premier linebacker became the day's second commitment.
The pledges from O.J. Howard and Reuben Foster got Alabama's 2013 class, which currently stands at 18 commitments, off and running.
Foster, Howard and Huntsville offensive tackle Grant Hill are three of the top four players in Alabama's Most Wanted - The Tuscaloosa News' ranking of the state's top 50 players.
Foster, the No. 1-ranked player in the state, has yet to play a down of high school football in the state. He transferred from Troup County High School in LaGrange, Ga., this year after his coach left the school. The five-star linebacker created a minifirestorm by transferring across state lines to Auburn High School. Alabama's top commitment moving into chief rival Auburn's backyard didn't sit well with Crimson Tide fans, and the status of Foster's commitment to Alabama has been an on-going topic ever since.
While he is still publicly committed to Alabama, Foster continues to flirt with Auburn and Georgia. His best friend is Georgia safety commitment Tray Matthews, and Foster has visited Athens, Ga., twice in four weeks.
There's no secret why Foster, the nation's No. 2 overall player, is coveted by so many programs. He hits like a bulldozer, he's incredibly instinctive and his love of the game is infectious to those around him. He recorded a stunning 185 tackles and 14 sacks his junior season.
He said making tackles comes instictively.
"When I'm a linebacker and I'm about 5 yards deep off the ball, once they snap the ball I don't pay attention to the line, it's just instinct," Foster said. "Really I don't think about, 'Do this, do that.' I just run to the ball and do whatever I can. It's just instinct. My coaches have taught me a lot of that."
Howard lands at the No. 3 spot in Alabama's Most Wanted, coming off a Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge in Atlanta two weeks ago that sent the tight end's stock soaring.
A mismatch for almost any defender due to his physical prowess, Howard could play tight end, H-back or even wide receiver at the next level. He tallied 900 yards receiving, 800 yards rushing and threw for 500 yards in 2011. He made 92 tackles, including 14 sacks, for Autauga Academy. He bench-presses 330 pounds, squats 400 and runs a 4.56-second 40-yard dash.
His coach, Mike Sims, has been around Howard since the elite athlete was a 6-2, 220-pound freshman, watching his physical development. It's not the athletic ability that stands out, Sims said.
"We were playing for the region title last year, and O.J. was triple-covered basically every play," Sims said. "He got one touch all ballgame and we won the game, which was very rare without O.J. being really involved. He never complained once or said anything about it. He only praised his teammates. To me that's one of the biggest things that make O.J. so special. His character. His character is impeccable, and it's just as good as his athleticism."
Hill ranks fourth in the state. Like Howard, he's seen his profile on the rise recently.
At 6-6, 297 pounds, Hill has put in a lot of work in the past year, trimming more than 30 pounds off his frame during that time.
A track and field star in the discus and shot put, Hill put some of those skills to use at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge. Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell came away impressed with Hill's ability.
"I love him. His competitive nature is awesome," Farrell said. "They only had three linemen in the whole lineman challenge, he's walking around with a rope around his waist ready to compete all the time. He's much better than I thought he was, and I liked him on film. I thought he was a guard, but he can be a right tackle. He's a very physical kid."
Hill is projected as an offensive guard at Alabama, but he's versatile enough to contribute at tackle as well.
Lining up solely at right tackle at last week's camp, Hill held his own with the best defensive end pass-rushers in the country, including five-star talent such as Carl Lawson and Da'Shawn Hand.
Hill said he's 100 percent committed to Alabama, showing no interest in any other program.
"I just feel like Alabama was a better fit for me than anywhere else. It was the best fit."
Reach Aaron Suttles at Aaron@TideSports.com or at 205-722-0229.