After striking out with a few notable tight ends in recent years, Alabama is looking to bring in a big name at the position in the current recruiting cycle. The Crimson Tide played host to one of those targets over the weekend as four-star talent Jelani Thurman was in town for an official visit.
Thurman had already made a pair of visits to Tuscaloosa, Ala., prior to this weekend. However, his latest stop at the Capstone allowed him to soak in all aspects of the Crimson Tide’s program.
“The visit went great, I have no complaints,” Thurman said. “The thing that stood out the most was they showed me that their school is way bigger than football. They showed me every aspect of Alabama, the football aspect, the school aspects, what it’s like after school, the family aspects. They made sure to highlight everything Alabama has to offer.”
Thurman, 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, is rated as the No. 9 tight end and No. 133 overall player in the 2023 class according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. The Fairburn, Ga., native demonstrates the ability to contribute as both a blocker and a receiver and is coming off a junior season in which he recorded 31 receptions for 479 yards and seven touchdowns while helping his team to an appearance in the Class 6A state championship game.
This weekend, Nick Saban told Thurman those skills make him the ideal replacement for starting tight end Cameron Latu, who is in his final season this year.
“He told me they are going to need another big tight end and want to make sure they don’t miss a beat when they lose Cameron Latu,” Thurman said of his conversation with Saban. “They need that guy who can come in and do everything that needs to be done with blocking, catching and being able to be versatile. They think I could do that role over there.”
Thurman agrees with that assessment.
“I see myself fitting in well in their offense,” Thurman said. “I feel like it wouldn’t be too much different from what I do at my high school. They really never take me off the field. If I can be in the formation and help on the field, I’m can do anything the team needs.”
Last weekend’s trip to Alabama was Thurman’s third official visit as he also traveled to Michigan State and Auburn earlier this month. He will make his way to Ohio State for his fourth official visit this weekend. At the moment those four schools are leading the way for his commitment.
Thurman said his fifth official visit is “up for grabs,” stating that he isn’t even sure if he will use it. Following this weekend’s trip to Ohio State, he plans to mull over his options before making his decision next month.
One advantage Alabama has is Thurman’s relationship with first-year tight ends coach Joe Cox, who was one of the first assistants to recruit the tight end during his previous coaching stop at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Thurman speaks with Cox roughly every other day and says his bond with the assistant is one of the strongest among the coaches who are recruiting him.
“He’s just a cool guy,” Thurman said. “He’s always laughing, always making jokes. He’s a great coach, first off. But he’s also going to be right there for you if you need him. When I look at what I want in a coach, that’s what I like.”
The other pull Alabama has in its favor is the possibility of a matchup against Georgia. Thurman’s father, Odell, was an All-SEC linebacker at Georgia, while his mother, Kara Braxton, played basketball for the Bulldogs. However, Georgia has yet to extend an offer his way.
“That put the biggest chip on my shoulder,” Thurman said. “Whenever we get to school, I hope we play them. Man, you don’t know how bad I want to play Georgia. Even if it doesn’t happen, the numbers are going to speak for themselves and they’ll know what they’re missing. But if I get to show out against Georgia, I’m going to make it one of my best games.”
As of now, Thurman says there isn’t a leader among his top four schools. Regardless of which school he decides to commit to next month, he is hoping to get back to Tuscaloosa to take in an Alabama game or two this fall.
“I just want to go where I can see myself fitting and growing and where I can be highlighted as a major tight end,” Thurman said. “I want to go somewhere where I can see myself winning a Mackey Award. That’s my No. 1 goal when I get to college. I need that trophy.”