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January 21, 2013

Thompson glad to be back at Bama

Perhaps the biggest five-star signing Nick Saban reeled in for his football program during the past year came in putting the crimson and white back on Lance Thompson.

Thompson, Alabama's linebackers coach, is more than just X's and O's. Oh, he's more than adequate at helping develop his players, but Thompson is among the elite of elite at what Alabama does best. He is an ace recruiter.

Call him the closer.

Thompson, who came back to Alabama after three seasons at Tenneessee, earned his bones through years of recruiting the best talent in the Southeast, particularly in south Alabama and the Florida panhandle. The names of the players he's recruited for the Crimson Tide read like an All-American list - Julio Jones, Trent Richardson, D.J. Fluker, AJ McCarron.

When Jeremy Pruitt bolted to become the defensive coordinator for Florida State, thus vacating the uber-competitive Mobile/Florida Panhandle recruiting territory, Thompson got back on deck to reel in that area's top players.

It's a job he thrives at because he embraces and thoroughly enjoys the process. He also loves being back in Tuscaloosa and working for Saban.

"It's like coming back home," Thompson said. "You kind of know what the expectation is and how things are done. You just get so ingrained with the way it works because you know the results. You may not win every game, but the way Coach does it, it gives you the best chance to be ready to play and play well."

He doesn't do it with sizzle or hype, although flashing a national championship ring doesn't hurt.

Thompson recruits with a message of the process and a genuine interest in developing players.

"I just try to be real with them," Thompson said. "I try to be upfront with them in terms of what's coming. I can anticipate how other schools will recruit them. I'll say, 'Hey, this is the way we do our deal.' I also think it's really easy to represent Alabama. It's really easy to represent Coach Saban. The history is the history. The tradition and the class with which we do things, that's obvious. Our passion and the way we support our team with our fans, it's unmatched.

"Coach Saban, the guy is unbelievable. When we're all dead and gone he'll be remembered as one of the top three coaches in the history of college football. If you want to become better as a man, if you want to create value in yourself as a man, if you want to win, this is a guy you ought to consider because as coaches and players, he does that for all of us. I'm very blessed to have an opportunity to work with the guy because every day I'm with him I learn something."

The Mobile/Florida panhandle area has always been a battle ground for recruits, so to speak. But the current environment with Dameyune Craig recruiting for Auburn, Pruitt for Florida State and Thompson may be the most competitive the region has seen, and that's not to mention Florida and LSU, which also recruit the fertile area well.

Thompson isn't scared, though. He doesn't see it as competition as much as he does in selling a stellar product.

"I don't know if it's like me going up against them," he said. "For me recruiting, the way I've always dealt with recruiting is it's about presenting kids opportunities. I don't worry about the other guys. I don't worry about anything. I say, 'Hey, this is Alabama. This is Coach Saban's Alabama.' Everybody's got to understand the school's the school but then the program is the coach's. So this is Nick Saban's Alabama. It's different than Coach Bryant's Alabama or Coach Stalling's Alabama.

"I tell them there is good and bad if you come to our place. We're demanding. We have expectations. It's not going to be easy all the time. Because a lot of kids get so caught up in the hype of recruiting. It kind of gives them a false sense of what reality is. I try to ground those guys. I say, 'Hey listen, if you come to our place you've got to go to class, you have to go to study hall. You have to get up in the morning and go to Coach (Scott) Cochran's workout. Our practices are going to be demanding. We're going to throw a lot at you.' But I also tell them that we're never going to ask you to do something that you can't do, and we're never going to ask you to do something that's not in your best interest as a kid, as student or as a player."

And if self-doubt ever does creep in, Thompson just remembers the nights he spent in Mobile recruiting the 2008 class, a class widely recognized as turning the Tide.

"To use a meteorologist term, that class was a perfect storm for us," Thompson said. "We came in here late in 2007 and we didn't get anybody. Everybody beat us for everybody. It just happened that south Alabama and the panhandle had the players that we had to get. It's funny. We get Julio. We get Trent. We get D.J. We get AJ. That was the perfect storm for Alabama football. Alabama's standard had fallen a little bit. It had slipped. Those kids and that class flipped it. Those guys understood what was important. Those guys returned it to Alabama football."

Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron.suttles@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0229.



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