July 28, 2011

Nkemdiche takes recruiting in stride

HOOVER | Robert Nkemdiche isn't even 17 years old, but he's already a household name in the world of college football recruiting.

The 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive star may not only be the best player in the 2013 class, but in the 2012 as well. Think of Jadeveon Clowney or even Julius Peppers -- his favorite players growing up.

"First off, his size and his ability to play the game is unbelievable," Nkemdiche's head coach Mickey Conn said. "He's unbelievably blessed by God with great athletic ability and a great physical presence."

Conn, who played for the 1992 University of Alabama team that won a national championship, knows a thing or two about great defensive players but said he's never seen anybody like Nkemdiche at this level.

"He runs really well and he's very big, which is a good combination for a defensive player," Conn said. "He plays relentless. Some guys are that big, but they don't play with a motor. He's got the motor to go with the body and the ability."

It's no secret that Nkemdiche is considered one of the most coveted recruits around, but the Loganville, Ga., native is taking his recruitment in stride and focused more on the upcoming season.

"(The attention) has been good, but I'm just really focused on the season coming up and trying to win a state championship," Nkemdiche said.

The coaching staff at Grayson High School is also helping its star player deal with recruiting, but Conn believes that Nkemdiche has handled it well to this point.

"All of this attention, he's getting from all the schools, he's really handling that well," Conn said. "I know we're still in the early stages of this thing right now, but at this point, he's not letting it go to his head too much. We're trying to keep him grounded as well, but I think he's doing a really good job of handling all this stuff that's around him."

Nkemdiche wouldn't name any favorites, but he's already taken a visit to Auburn this summer and it's been rumored that Alabama is at the top of his list.

"Everybody thinks that's my favorite, and it's up there, but it's not the only school that I have in mind right now," Nkemdiche said. "I have other schools, and I'm just playing the field right now."

The elite 2013 prospect visited Tuscaloosa towards the end of last year while the Crimson Tide was practicing, preparing to take on Michigan State in the Capital One bowl.

"I watched the team while they were doing a bowl game practice," Nkemdiche said. "It was a closed practice, and I was the only recruit there. I talked with Nick Saban and Coach Sal (Sunseri). They told me to keep working hard, and they liked my film. I was probably one of the best people they had on film at defensive end."

Even though Nkemdiche played mostly at defensive end last year, the UA coaching staff told him they liked him more at outside linebacker and thinks he would be a perfect at the Jack linebacker position.

As a sophomore, Nkemdiche finished with 64 tackles and 20 sacks.

"I think my strengths are my speed and my quickness, how big I am and my physicality," he said. "It helps me on the field because opposing players get intimidated by how fast and physical I am."

Nkemdiche hasn't set up any visits for this fall yet but hinted at a return trip to Alabama.

Reach Greg Ostendorf at greg@tidesports.com.

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