A Package Deal For Recruiting College Football Players That Might Actually Work
It is unlikely for James Smith and Jaquavious “Qua” Russaw to be able to play together at the next level without the other.
Every week, Sports Illustrated’s John Garcia Jr. chooses one question posed to him by fans through social media (@JohnGarcia_Jr and @SIAllAmerican) with the aim of delving into the college football recruiting topics that his fans are most interested in.
It was in August of this year that two of America’s top recruits for the class of 2023 college football season, James Smith and Jaquavious “Qua” Russaw, released their lists of top schools in which they are considering enrolling.
A Package Deal For Recruiting College Football Players That Might Actually Work
A list of top schools is the standard operating procedure for the modern recruit, even though both players are among the best at their respective positions nationally, with Smith rated as the No. 1 interior defensive lineman and Russaw ranked as the top linebacker in the recently released SI99.
The catch here, however, is that the duo is determined to play together at all costs.
Both players were teammates at Montgomery (Ala.) Carver High School and they are hoping to continue to wreak havoc on opposing offenses together in the future.
In terms of recruiting, this is not the most uncommon situation, especially among the same school and on the same side of the ball, but at the power five-level, it is rare to see any package deal followed through on.
College programs must, on the one hand, truly want each and every player to be a part of their program. Despite the fact that it sounds elementary, there is usually a perception that one player in these scenarios is viewed more highly than the other, and sometimes by a great deal.
Regardless of the gap in talent, there are many other factors a program will have to consider before offering teammates in the same recruitment cycle, including scholarship numbers, scheme, academic standing, and many other factors that are important for them to consider as well.
Because of varying timelines, taking a duo in the same cycle becomes more and more atypical as time goes by.
There is a common example of this in the offseason when spring and summer official visits are often a determining factor in how a top recruit navigates the process during the offseason.
The coach takes enough trips to make a decision before the season even begins or he needs more time and trips to make the decision later on in the season.
As a result of the latter scenario, a college program will have the opportunity to add more talent to the team at its current position, making it harder for the school to accept a verbal commitment from both players at the same time.
It seems, however, that there are not many concerns about these very normal scenarios disrupting the tandem when it comes to Smith and Russaw.
In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, each of them spoke about their recruitment process and, of course, about each other, and their bond stood out throughout.
In a jovial manner, Smith joined Russaw’s interview midway through the questioning process. After that, Russaw started over, which was a reflection of each of these top Alabama personalities.
Smith said late this summer that it was a package deal with the same top schools. ‘We’ve got everything in there together,’ he said.
Despite his 6’4″, 300-pound frame, Smith jokes that if he played basketball to find a school, he would struggle to take part in pick-and-rolls (despite his 6-foot-4, 300-pound frame).
In case it comes to playing with Russaw, it’s all business for both parties when it comes to the game. In the same way, it is not uncommon for onlookers to see the duo of coaches at Madhouse Training quite often.
There is no doubt that the Montgomery-based strength and positional coaches are able to corroborate all of the elements of the duo playing together, as they have even hosted top coaches during their spring evaluation sessions.
The two are almost like a yin and yang in terms of the way they balance each other on and off the field as if they were yin and yang.
It is Smith who is the extrovert, while Russaw is one who is more reserved, at least off the field, though both of them tend to push each other when it comes to work when they are together.
Both of their personalities are much more blended in that regard, as both of them have been working on reshaping their bodies ahead of the 2022 season to the point where each of them looks college ready right now.
Prior to this point, there was the expectation that the two would also play together, but it never came to pass.
During the 2021 season, Smith spent time at IMG Academy in Florida before returning to Alabama towards the end of the season.
Since Russaw moved to the area before the start of the 21 seasons, those in the industry have been keeping an eye on the two as potential package deals ever since.
It has been reported by those around the seniors that the possibility of finally playing together was one of the reasons Smith returned to Montgomery, so doing so in college feels more important and likely than it ever has before. As far as I know, there is no other plan in place.
So where are they going to college?
It is important to note that each prospect released the same top six programs – Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Ohio State, Florida, and Alabama State – in order of choice.
Beyond the two most recent national champions, where there is evidently a strong selling point both from a positional and a geographical standpoint, it becomes very intriguing when you try to find the dark-horse programs that have a chance beyond the favorites beyond the two most recent national champions.
With the non-Bama/UGA programs listed in the list, it seems as if one is pulling the other. There is no doubt that Auburn, which has already hosted each of them for an official visit, and Alabama State are semilocal institutions to the duo, so those listings speak for themselves. In terms of competing for the top talent, each team has a lot on the field this fall.
A maximum of three more official visits between the contending programs are still left, so there is still a chance for the feel of the recruitment process to shift a little bit.
There is no doubt that both Ohio State and Florida are impressive programs in their own right, but as we see it, each one leads the other towards consideration-at least as far as we are concerned.
It is also interesting to note that Smith has a family connection to the state of Ohio, so he may be more inclined to push Russaw in the direction of the Buckeyes, so a slight push to get Russaw there could lead to a trip to Columbus.
In the case of the pass rusher, his father comes from the state of Florida, which is where he was born.
Russaw admits that his father would not be against his son playing college ball in the Sunshine State if he were a lifelong Gators fan.
As part of Billy Napier’s Friday Night Lights event, the two were in Gainesville together to complete the offseason.
The fact that both Ohio State and Florida have not been scheduled for official visits before the end of the college football season in 2022 would be a slight surprise.
In light of this, it would be reasonable to assume that the timeline would be pushed back towards the early National Signing Day window in the middle of December if in-state favorite Alabama also gets an official visit.
Ultimately, if it comes down to Nick Saban vs. Kirby Smart in the end, it will be fitting that the two have had the chance to experience all aspects of recruiting elite teams together.
There has also been a bit of head-to-head competition in the current recruiting cycle for a similar pair of recruits, as Georgia natives and fellow SI99 recruits Caleb Downs and Justice Haynes have sometimes been considered a package deal together.
They considered Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, and Ohio State together, and they often overlapped on the visiting trail thereafter before picking the Crimson Tide just 10 days apart in July, after considering the four schools together.
Do you have a recruiting question that needs to be answered? Submit yours to @SIAllAmerican and/or @JohnGarcia_Jr so that it may be featured on the next Mailbag by @SIAllAmerican and/or @JohnGarcia_Jr.