The hype is building around Alabama's next star at WR
Nick Saban isn’t a fan of A-Day hype. Of course, the Alabama head coach wants his young players to shine in the annual scrimmage. However, he could do without the residual buzz that tends to follow his breakout performers over the summer leading into fall camp.
Two years ago, Saban scolded the media for its instant interest in John Matchie III following his MVP performance on A-Day. During that scrimmage, the then-freshman receiver hauled in five catches for 133 yards while playing for the second-team offense. Knowing he had a stocked receiving unit that season, Saban quickly pumped the brakes on some of the praise surrounding the young receiver, reminding reporters that his production came against second-team opposition.
“He did a good job,” Saban said at the time. “But again, what’s the level of comp, you know? I mean, would he catch all of those passes if [Patrick Surtain II] or [Trevon Diggs] or somebody’s covering him? I don’t know, aight. … I’m only saying this because you all have a tendency to make somebody a star. And when you do that, you create a problem for us as coaches. Do you understand that? So, can we just make sure we’re just — it is what it is and let’s not go down that road after one spring game.”
This past Saturday, Alabama fans were treated to another eye-opening performance from a freshman receiver as Agiye Hall recorded four receptions for 72 yards during the A-Day scrimmage. This time, even Saban had a hard time holding back his excitement.
“I think that he is a young player, he is getting better every day,” Saban said of Hall. “I think that he has a lot of ability. I think that he is not 100 percent sure sometimes of what he is doing. So to get him to play fast all the time is something that he wants to do and naturally does, but like any player most of the time when they are not sure of what they are doing, they aren’t playing fast. He has made significant improvement throughout the spring, and he is someone that we think has a lot of potential.
“He makes a lot of contested catches. He’s got great size. He’s got really some explosive speed that I think we need. We need some guys to complement John Metchie when he gets back. We are pleased with his progress. He had a really good spring.”
While quarterback Bryce Young took home MVP honors on A-Day, it was Hall who provided the most highlights on the afternoon. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound receiver’s most impressive snag came during the third quarter when he outleaped Ronald Williams Jr. while contorting his body to the left all while managing to get a foot down inside the sideline.
Before that, Hall brought Bryant-Denny Stadium to his feet with a 37-yard reception in the second quarter where he secured a deep ball while falling backward against walk-on defensive back DJ Douglas. All four of the freshman’s catches on the day went for first downs. He would have added a fifth first-down reception had his 28-yard catch not been called back by a penalty during the third quarter.
Like Metchie two years ago, Hall lined up with the second-team offense, doing his damage against the second-team secondary. However, when asked about the freshman receiver during ESPN’s broadcast, Saban wasn’t shy to dole out praise.
“Agiye Hall is a really really good freshman prospect,” Saban told ESPN. “We’re trying to get him to where we can move him around some so that we can get him the ball more. So he’s been playing to the field the whole time at Z [receiver], so I told them to move him around so I can get him the ball because he’s one of the most explosive players on this team.”
Hall comes to Alabama as the No. 71 overall player and No. 14 receiver in the 2021 class. He’s one of three Rivals100 receivers in this year’s class already enrolled in the program, joining Ja’Corey Brooks and Christian Leary. The Tide will add another Rivals100 receiver in JoJo Earle to the mix this summer.
While Alabama loses two likely first-rounders in DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle this offseason, it brings back plenty of talent at the position to go with its incoming freshmen. Metchie returns after finishing second on the team with 55 receptions for 916 yards and six touchdowns. Meanwhile, redshirt junior Slade Bolden should add more experience to the unit after filling in at slot for an injured Waddle last year.
Sophomore Traeshon Holden led all receivers with nine receptions for 89 yards on A-Day, while sophomore Javon Baker and redshirt junior Xavier Williams also had solid springs.
Hall’s breakout A-Day performance proved he can compete with that mix to earn first-team action this fall. Perhaps even more encouraging for Saban, the freshman doesn’t seem to be letting the recent hype get to his head. Following the scrimmage, Hall responded to several tweets, stating he still has plenty of work to do this offseason.
“The thing with Aigye is he comes to practice every day willing to work, he has a will to learn,” Bolden said following A-Day. “He always puts in the right effort in practice, and I think putting in that kind of effort has helped him understand concepts and what to do. It was a lot easier concepts today, so he could just go out there and play fast and confident. I thought he did a great job.”
The last freshman receiver to start for Alabama was Waddle, who made two starts during the 2018 season. Could Hall, who wears the same No. 17, repeat the feat this year? That’s yet to be seen. Although, Saturday provided plenty of reason for optimism.