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Alabama football: When it comes to recruiting, Saban loves his Louisiana boys

November 4, 2017

TUSCALOOSA — The photographs adorning Isaiah Buggs’ locker prompt plenty of jokes.

“Got like little pictures of him when he was getting recruited,” fellow Alabama defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne said Tuesday.

A Ruston, La., native, Buggs was recruited heavily by LSU, his home state team that visits Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, just one of the countless prospects fought over between these two recruiting rivals.

Alabama has 10 Louisiana natives on its roster. Four — Buggs, receiver Cam Sims, safety Hootie Jones and defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis — hail from northern cities or parishes in the state, a region Tide coach Nick Saban prioritized when he arrived at LSU in 2000.

“At that time LSU wasn’t getting a lot of the players in north Louisiana,” Saban said this week. “We developed a lot of relationships, tried to turn that around. We still have a lot of good relationships. It’s a little closer to here than other parts of the state. … They’ve always had great players, historically through the years. We’ve been fortunate to get a couple of those players to come to Alabama and they’ve done a really good job for us.”

Sims affectionately referred to the group as the “318 gang” earlier this week, a reference to the area code from which he resides. The group lost a native son this offseason — offensive tackle Cam Robinson — but Buggs and Mathis entered as fine replacements.

Such a cycle has become commonplace in Tuscaloosa, a trend current Tigers coach Ed Orgeron — the program’s recruiting coordinator for the two seasons preceding this one — is determined to quell, even beyond Louisiana.

Take, for example, Tide defensive end Raekwon Davis. He’s a Meridian, Miss., native who flipped between Alabama and Mississippi State during his recruitment. He finally settled on the Tide, posting a message to his Twitter account.

The one person thanked, by name, in the post for “making a major impact” on his life? Orgeron — then still the recruiting coordinator at LSU.

“I love big Raekwon, man, I was close to that boy,” Orgeron said on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “Had a great relationship with him but Alabama beat us. I worked very hard to get him, really did. … He’s one of the biggest human beings I’ve ever seen. You would think a guy like that would play offensive line, but he’s so flexible. He’s a rarity. He’s a first-round draft pick.”

Now, Davis and Buggs, a hometown boy, are rotating on a Crimson Tide defensive line that can play as many as eight or nine players without discernible drop off.

“We go after the same guys. I’m glad we got some of the guys we got. We beat them on a couple guys. They’ve beaten us,” Orgeron said.

“Remember, this is (Saban’s) 11th year there. This is my first, OK?”