Alabama assistant head coach/linebackers coach Sal Sunseri has become a national recruiting force for the Crimson Tide, routinely going beyond the school's traditional recruiting footprint (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee) to land top talent.
This recruiting cycle, it was evident Sunseri's good work continues. He went into Ohio and beat the in-state Buckeyes (something that does not happen very often) on Top100 linebacker Trey DePriest.
Down the stretch Sunseri closed as strong as any recruiter in the country, landing two more players from more than a state away: defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan (Asheville, N.C.) on National Signing Day and franchise offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha) last weekend.
Pagan had previously been committed to Florida and then Clemson. He was thought to be Georgia-bound in the hours leading up to his announcement.
Kouandjio, one of the most talked-about players on Feb. 2, committed to Auburn in a nationally televised announcement ... only to delay the signing of his letter-of-intent. Kouandjio signed with Alabama on Feb. 5. The inking of Kouandjio put Alabama over the top for the nation's top class in the 2011 cycle.
Sunseri also inked Under Armour All-American offensive lineman Ryan Kelly out of Ohio, junior college prospect Quinton Dial, in-state defensive back Chris Jones and son Vinnie Sunseri from Tuscaloosa, Ala.
For his efforts, Sunseri is the 2011 National Recruiter of the Year. Other finalists were Tony Alford (Notre Dame), Mike Bobo (Georgia), Lawrence Dawsey (Florida State), Ed Orgeron (USC), and Frank Wilson (LSU).
"(Sunseri) did an outstanding job and worked extremely hard, but at Alabama we recruit as a team and we have a lot of involvement from all of our staff," Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said.
"I don't think it's one person, whether it is an assistant coach or a head coach that gets a player to come to a school. I think it's the university itself, the relationships of the people and the players, it's the overall philosophy of the program.
"Every single one of our coaches is a great recruiter, and we all work together to develop positive relationships with those we recruit. I think (Sunseri) did a great job of setting the table and developing a plan for how we would have the best chance to be successful, we all worked hard to try and make it happen and it worked out very well for us."
Sunseri echoed Saban regarding a team approach to recruiting.
"This recognition should really go to our entire staff and to the University of Alabama," Sunseri said. "(Saban's) philosophy is to provide an atmosphere for academic development, athletic development, character development and career development. When we are talking to recruits across the country, we talk about those four areas and show how that works at Alabama.
"We've had more Freshman Academic All-SEC honorees than anyone and more Academic All-Americans than anyone in the conference the last two years. Our graduation rate is always up near the top nationally.
"Obviously, you can look at the success in terms of preparing our players for the NFL with the draft and the number of players making NFL rosters along with the feedback you get from those teams. It is one thing to say what you are going to do to help a player develop and it's another to point to the results since Coach Saban has been here. You combine that with the history and the tradition at Alabama, and that is what makes this such a special place."
Sunseri is widely respected as a coach and recruiter by his peers. An All-American linebacker at Pittsburgh in the 1980s, he was in the mix for the Panthers' head coaching position this season and should be a head coach at a major program in the near future. He also has NFL experience, leading one of the best defensive lines in the league with the Carolina Panthers from 2002-08.
ACC: Lawrence Dawsey, Florida State. "James Wilder didn't commit to Florida State, he committed to Lawrence Dawsey," said one assistant coach familiar with Wilder's recruitment. You hear stories throughout the Sunshine State like that -- about how good Dawsey is at building relationships with young people and their families and how recruits are drawn to programs with which he's associated. It's been that way since he was an assistant at South Florida, and he has continued to do the same at his alma mater.
Big East: Clint Hurtt, Louisville. Hurtt, who formerly was one of the top recruiters on the Miami staff, returned to his old stomping grounds to sign an impressive haul. Hurtt signed Top247 safety Gerod Holliman (Miami, Fla./Southridge) and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (Miami, Fla./Northwestern). He also landed Bridgewater's teammate and Under Armour All-American receiver Eli Rogers and beat the Hurricanes late on defensive end Bryant DuBose (Oakland Park, Fla./Northeast). Hurtt does an excellent job battling in one of the top talent-producing areas of the country.
Big Ten: Luke Fickell, Ohio State. The Buckeyes' lead recruiter, Fickell continues to have success mining out-of-state areas. He was the lead recruiter on four-star linebacker Ryan Shazier (Plantation, Fla.), who was committed to Florida for most of the process. Ohio State's class, which was deep on the defensive line, ranked No. 10 nationally and tops in the Big Ten.
Big 12: Major Applewhite, Texas. The Longhorns assistant and former UT quarterback helped hold the Texas class, which finished No. 3 nationally, together through the departure of six assistant coaches from the Texas program. He also was the lead recruiter on running back Malcolm Brown (Cibolo, Texas/Steele), one of the top running back prospects in the country. Applewhite is excellent at building relationships with prospects and by all accounts is a rising star in coaching.
Pac-10: Ed Orgeron, USC. Orgeron continued to show he's one of the best recruiters in the country with this year's Trojans haul. He was able to land talented in-state defensive linemen Greg Townsend and Christian Heyward. Orgeron also went to Cleveland (Ohio) Glenville and beat Ohio State on offensive tackle Aundrey Walker.