It's all about the X's and O's for Earl Little Jr. and Nick Saban

Andrew Bone


Dec 10, 2021

Alabama's recruitment of Rivals100 cornerback from American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida, has been on-going for the last few years. The interest and communication was expressed prior to receiving an offer from the University of Alabama on February 5, 2020.

Little took several visits to Tuscaloosa including multi-day trips in June and July. He attended the Alabama/Miami game in Atlanta for the season opener and took an official visit November 5-7. He has been a priority since the start of his courtship by Alabama and considered a heavy lean for the past several months.

Why hasn't Little committed already (if to Alabama) especially with the limited spots remaining in the class? The answer is simple—A: Little always planned to wait to announce his decision on signing day, and B: Alabama never pressured him to go ahead with a decision.

The latter is one of the many reasons why Alabama put itself in a strong position to land the elite prospect during the Early Signing Period (December 15-17). There is plenty of comfort on both sides. It starts with head coach Nick Saban.

"From top to bottom it's all about the way Coach Saban runs his program," said Little's father, Earl Sr. "You know everything has to be done right. It's not a dictatorship. It's all about excellence. It's all about the small details and making sure you are doing things right.

"Coach Saban is always striving to get better. He talked to us about how they've had to change some things after they played Oklahoma. Pat (Surtain II) was just a freshman back then (2018). Oklahoma was throwing out these bunch formations they had never seen before. He had to go back to the drawing board and make adjustments.

"They have nutritionists and chefs. They talk to (Earl) Jr., and said we know you are from south Florida. We have lobster. We have seafood. We will cater to your liking. The assistants, analysts, GAs (graduate assistants), everyone in the recruiting department, Carrigan (Johnson, Football Operations Coordinator).

"It's all about excellence there. My wife and I both have degrees in Education. The guys at Alabama graduate in 3-3.5 years. They had several who were working on their Master's degree who were playing in the national championship last year. They are not just excellent on the football field, but also in the classroom."

It's been a special journey for Little's father to witness. Little is the youngest of three and has the opportunity to play for just about any program in the country. He trimmed his finalists to three this week: Alabama, Florida State and Miami.

He has visited all three schools, but despite Earl Sr., playing for the Hurricanes there hasn't been much interest in the home-town school until Mario Cristobal was hired as its head coach earlier this week. Cristobal, an elite recruiter, Miami native and former Alabama assistant, has made it clear he wants to keep the local talent away from other programs.

Little is considered a lean to Alabama, but Cristobal went to visit him this week. An official visit to Miami is in-play for this weekend, but has not been decided to this point. The Littles are very familiar with Coach Cristobal. He is a Miami alum like Earl Sr. The two have known each other for a long time. Little also took an official visit to Oregon a few weeks ago.

Coach Cristobal and Miami would love to land the home-grown product, but battling Coach Saban and the Crimson Tide is a different story, at least for Little. Alabama has been involved in his recruitment from the get-go. Alabama is at the top of the food chain in college football and has been for more than a decade.

“The whole recruiting process from Alabama has been great," his father said. "I have been very impressed with everything. They are the No. 1 team in the country. The cream of the crop since Coach Saban has been there.

"They can pick any kid they want to go after, and they don't have to say much to get someone to go there. They recruit like they are ranked No. 130 in the country like they are trying to get to the top. Everything there is run like an NFL program. They just do such a great job, and it starts with the guy (Saban) at the top.”

It was during Little's trip to Tuscaloosa in June where his father noticed something he doesn't see on a regular basis. He spoke with various players on the team and watched as the Tide practiced and competed like it was a 98-degree day mid-August.

"When I go on these visits I like to pull away from the coaches and talk to different players on the team," Little, Sr. said. "I talked to (John) Metchie, Malachi (Moore) and (Jordan) Battle. If you aren't willing to work hard and buy in, Alabama is not for you. Some people just want to go to college and have fun. You are going to be at the facility 95-percent of the time.

"I was really impressed with what all I saw during the unofficial visit in June. We saw them go through one-on-ones, seven-on-seven, OL/DL drills and other team stuff. I was sitting there telling his mom, Jessie (who ran track at Florida International) just how super impressed I was with how the kids were out there running practice. Bryce (Young) was the leader. They were running it like Coach Saban was out there. It was crisp and efficient. It was just amazing to see."

The recruiting saga will come to an end next week when Little announces his much-anticipated college decision. Earl Sr., noted the announcement is possibly not until Thursday or Friday in order for family and friends to attend the ceremony. Alabama had one final evening with Little before he announces a decision.

Little knows the ins-and-outs of the program from all the visits and from speaking to former American Heritage High School stars like Pat Surtain II, Denver Broncos star cornerback, and Dallas Turner, freshman All-American for the Crimson Tide.

It's also about continuing to build the relationship with the Tide coaches especially with Nick Saban. Earl Sr. said the connection has been impressive during Alabama's pursuit of his son. It was all about talking shop on Thursday evening with the seven-time national championship head coach.

"It was all about the X’s and O's," he said. "Coach Saban has been really great. Coach Valai and Robert Gillespie were also here last night. Coach Saban doesn't have to sell the program. It's the standard. We've been to Tuscaloosa quite a few times, and we've had the one-on-one conversations.

"What was very impressive last night was how 97-percent of the conversation between Jr. and Coach Saban was about X's and O's. They were sitting down at the table just taking X's and O's for more than an hour. Coach Saban was explaining different concepts to him and how they like to run things.

"I know he had to go see last night and then get on a plane to go see someone else, but it was really cool for him to be there just talking ball. It's nice to see him have that type of relationship with Coach Saban. Earl has been a top priority for them, and they have continued to show it."

First year Alabama assistant coaches Jay Valai and Robert Gillespie have led the surge for the Tide in Little's recruitment. Little Sr., said the conversations were almost immediate when they joined Coach Saban's staff.

"The relationship with those guys have been great," he said. "Both reached out to me when they first arrived at Alabama.They jumped right on it. They’ve been going hard. Coach Valai has been going extremely hard. I have to give him props.

"This is Robert’s (Gillespie) area; this part of Broward County. Jay (Valai) has been going hard. He's a high energy guy. He loves to work out. He's super intelligent. I was a smart football player when I played so I’ll pick your brain. Coach Saban even said it was good to talk ball with me. All have been great coaches throughout this process."

The Littles will sit down as a family early next week to discuss where Earl Jr., wants to spend the next three-four years of his college life. His mom is a very instrumental piece and will share input in the decision. She has built a great relationship with Nick Saban throughout the process, but she is also fond of Coach Cristobal and Florida State head coach, Mike Norvell.

The 6-foot-1, 183-pound athlete with weigh the pros and cons of each school. Alabama has been considered the favorite for a long time, but the pressure of the recruiting journey has only intensified during the course of the last few weeks. It's something Little has been built to handle and will take with him for whichever school he decides to choose next week.

Earl Little Jr.

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