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The chance to 'be elite' led Caleb Downs to Alabama

Chad Simmons updated head shotby:Chad Simmons07/27/22


Few prospects in the entire country during this cycle were as heavily recruited as Caleb Downs. The Hoschton (Ga.) Mill Creek star was the apple of coaches’ eyes, whether that be Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Ryan Day, or any of the other 30-plus programs that offered him.

The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder gave very little away about whether he was leaning to a certain school or not, and went about each of his four official visits with a strict, business-like approach. Ultimately, he chose between four programs: Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Notre Dame.

The Bulldogs were once considered to be a favorite as the in-state school. Ohio State was trending at one time. Notre Dame made a compelling pitch, too. But Alabama — and everything it could offer him both on and off the field — won out, with the nation’s No. 1 safety announcing his commitment to the Crimson Tide on Wednesday afternoon.

“It is hard to explain, but it was a strong gut feeling that told me it was Alabama,” Downs told On3. “In my mind, the same team just kept showing up, and it was Alabama. That is when I knew.”

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Alabama’s success was undeniable

Heading into his official visits, Downs says he was a slight lean to Ohio State. It wasn’t until he went to Tuscaloosa on June 17 — his fifth trip overall to the school — that he really soaked in everything he was hearing from Saban and Co.

Their pitch was simple: no program in the past 15 years has produced the level of elite players that we have.

“Their message to me from the beginning was how they are different from every other program,” Downs said. “Others try to copy what they do, but nobody will be able to have the discipline and consistency that coach Saban brings to Alabama. It is an every day thing and an every year thing under coach Saban. They believe if the players can learn that, then they can be great and succeed at a high level.

… The track record Alabama has had under coach Saban was a big factor… Coach Saban is undeniably one of the best coaches in college football over the last 100 years.”

Playing for Nick Saban was too good to pass up for Caleb Downs

On each visit, Downs spent ample time with the coaching staff, including Saban. On the final trip, though, he got to sit down with the legendary head coach at his house. There, they talked mostly about things outside of football, and Downs got to see a different side to Saban.

He could easily relate to him, and that was just the added benefit to being coached and mentored by him.

“In my eyes, I am going to play for Yoda,” Downs added. “Coach Saban has great experience, great knowledge, and there is so much he can teach me. He is a great coach, the best ever, but he is still relatable. I am able to talk with him about a lot of things. He is that coach that can bring so much because of his experience, yet he is easy for me to talk to and relate to.”

Another feather in the Crimson Tide’s cap was Caleb Downs’ relationship with defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, who first extended an offer in 2020 when he coached at South Carolina. Their relationship has only grown since then, with Robinson first making a one-year stop at Miami before coming to Alabama.

“He was a factor for me,” Downs said. “I trusted him from early on because he offered me when he was at South Carolina. T-Rob is a great coach, he believed in me early on, and I know he has developed some great defensive backs.”

Final decision came this weekend

The schools at the top of his list have changed throughout the process. Alabama was always consistent, but so were Georgia and Ohio State. Each of the official visits gave him a chance to learn about what the schools offer from a football, lifestyle and academic perspective. Once he was done after his June 24 visit to Ohio State, he and his family — who already went through the recruiting process with his older brother, Josh — sat down for a lot of long conversations.

He weighed the pros and cons, and ultimately came to a decision this past weekend.

“I did go back and forth a lot the last couple of weeks before making my decision over the weekend,” he said. “That is when I knew with 100% confidence that it was Alabama. I continued to pray about it, I talked about it with my family, and I made my final decision.”

Now, with a decision behind him, Downs has already set out his goals for what wants to accomplish in the Crimson and White. Saban and Co. want to use him in multiple spots, at the STAR position, free safety and strong safety. Downs believes he can play multiple positions within the defense. His focus, as it has been during the recruiting process, is already lasered in.

“I want to be a Thorpe Award winner, I want to be a national champion, and I want to be a first-round draft pick,” he said. “Those are goals for me when I get to Alabama. It is win or go home there. It is about being elite. Alabama does whatever it takes to be successful. It is about being on top of the mountain at Alabama, and that’s why I am going there.”