July 3, 2011

Ragland familiar with UA's linebacker tradition

MADISON | The linebacker position is not a position the University of Alabama takes lightly.

It may be best known for the quarterbacks it has produced at the next level, but the true greats in Alabama history played on the other side of the ball, quarterbacking the defense.

With legends like Cornelius Bennett, Lee Roy Jordan and Derrick Thomas, and more recent stars like DeMeco Ryans and Rolando McClain, it's clear that the Crimson Tide has high expectations for its linebackers.

Reggie Ragland knows the tradition-rich history of Alabama football and embraces the challenge of becoming the next great linebacker to wear the crimson uniform.

"I've got to come in and bring my own style to the game just like they brought their own style to the game," Ragland said. "I've got to come in and run people down from behind like Cornelius Bennett, come in and fill the hole like Rolando McClain. I've got to come in and make my own way."

Ragland, a native of Madison and standout at Bob Jones High School, has been making his own way since his freshman year. Now entering his senior season, he's ranked No. 2 in the state on the The Tuscaloosa News' Alabama's Most Wanted Top 50 state recruiting rankings.

"He's one of those guys that's got an NFL body, first of all, and he's awfully athletic on top of that," Bob Jones head coach Kevin Rose said. "He's very athletic in the line of Derrick Thomas and Cornelius Bennett, if you can go back that far in Alabama football. He's a special kid."

Playing linebacker requires a different kind of mind-set. A player has to welcome contact and want to make the big hit. He has to be a leader on the team and command the respect of the other 10 players on the defense.
Ragland has that mind-set.

"There's nothing like playing linebacker," Ragland said. "You are the quarterback of the defense, and you have to come in and play, always, every night, every play, every snap of the game.

"I'm the leader because everybody looks up to me. I have to come in and do my part every day, so I can lead by example. They can't say, 'Reggie isn't doing this, so I don't want to do this.' I make sure I come in and do my work like everybody else is supposed to."

In December, the Rivals.com four-star prospect committed to Alabama, becoming the fifth member of the Crimson Tide's 2012 recruiting class. For Ragland, it wasn't a difficult decision.

"It was a great fit for me defense-wise," he said. "I love their defense. I love the coaching staff, some of the players on the team now, and the whole atmosphere is unbelievable. The fans, you're not going to get much better than the fans at Alabama."

Ragland didn't grow up a fan of the Crimson Tide, though. In fact, he didn't grow up a fan of either of the in-state schools. He was just a fan of football. For most people born in the state of Alabama, it's either Alabama or Auburn, and once that allegiance made, it's not changing.

It took a visit to Tuscaloosa before Ragland made his allegiance, but it's not changing now. Once his senior season wraps up at Bob Jones, he's ready to get on campus to start working out and doing whatever needs to be done for him to make an early impact on the field.

"He's going to fit in fine because he's going to come in, clock in and go to work," Rose said. "He's going to do whatever Coach (Nick) Saban asks him to do. He's not going to expect any type of special treatment or play any certain position. He's going to do what they ask him to do to the best of his ability."

Ragland may be coming to Alabama to play football, but he can't tell you it's his favorite sport. Growing up, he had dreams of becoming a star on the basketball court before he ever thought about playing football.

"My love has always been strong for basketball since I came out of the womb," Ragland said. "I've been like the same size since sixth grade. I was like 6-foot-1, and everybody thought I was going to be like 6-foot-8, but all of a sudden, I just stopped growing. Everybody thought I was going to be the man in basketball, but it ended up being football."

Based on his family history, it's easy to see why basketball was Ragland's favorite. He grew up in a basketball family. His dad wanted him to play basketball rather than football. His older brother, Chris White, was a star hoops player in the Huntsville area.

"It was big in my household because my brother won Mr. Basketball in Alabama back when he was in high school, and everybody in my family loves it," Ragland said.

Ragland's success and future on the football field hasn't deterred him from playing the sport he loves.

At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, he's big enough and strong enough to have his way against taller players in the paint, but he also has the athleticism to throw an alley-oop to himself with one hand and dunk it with the other.

As a sophomore, Ragland helped lead Bob Jones to a Class 6A state title. After an outstanding junior campaign with the Patriots and with recent success on the AAU circuit, schools like Florida, TCU and West Virginia have approached the two-sport star about playing both football and basketball at the next level.

This summer, he's playing with both his high school and AAU teams, trying to determine whether or not he wants to keep playing basketball or give up the game he loves.

"The process I'm going through right now with my basketball team is to see if I still want to play basketball or not," Ragland said. "Do I still love this game and should I play, because I know football is going to have to be my thing at the next level.

"I'm just trying to make sure this is right for me to do what I want to do. It's a process, and my parents and I are going to get together before basketball season starts and make sure that I want to play."

One thing is certain. When he gets to Tuscaloosa next summer, Ragland is set on playing football and football alone.

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