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July 26, 2013

Iron Bowl rivalry playing out for prep teammates

MORE: AuburnSports.com | TideSports.com

HOOVER, Ala. -- It will be a locker room divided as a recruiting battle for Jakell Mitchell and Stephen Roberts heats up.

Micthell is a three-star tight end committed to Auburn; Roberts, a four-star member of the Rivals250 presented by Under Armour, is a cornerback verbally pledged to go to Alabama.

The Opelika (Ala.) High pair are currently slated to be on opposite sides of the Iron Bowl, but at the National Select 7-on-7 both said that the coaching staffs can lay low as they each have their sales pitches ready in an attempt to ensure they are teammates for the next five years.

While committed to the Tigers, Mitchell is going to take an Alabama-like approach and said that his plan is to wear down the opposition.

"I tell him every day when I see him that he needs to come to Auburn. Seriously, every day," Mitchell said. "I think it will work -- we are tight - and I have until Signing Day to break him down.

"I think there is a good chance it'll happen."

Roberts is used to turning away passes and has rebuffed his friend so far. He says that he has his own plan of attack.

"I have the facts on my side," he said. "I look at the number of players that Alabama has put into the NFL Draft and the number of cornerbacks that go high, and that is all I need (to know).

"I tell Jakell that Alabama uses the tight end more than Auburn does and that he can do more at Alabama than he can at Auburn. I think I can get him with me."

At SEC Media Days, both Nick Saban and Gus Malzahn acknowledged that keeping the machine going starts in the living rooms.

Alabama has won four recruiting national championships as well as three of the last four BCS National Titles. The head coach of the Tide said that replacing each group of players is difficult.

[ MORE NATIONAL SELECT 7-ON-7: Top Offensive Performers ]

"It's a challenge each year to reinvent your team. You always lose good players," he said. "You always lose about 25 percent of your team in college, so it creates new opportunities for other players who may not have the same experience. It also creates new roles for players who have been a part of the team but now maybe have to assume a little different role.

"How each and every one of these players sort of accepts those roles and those challenges, and the attitude that they have toward focusing on the things that they need to do to make a significant contribution to the team in all those roles, has a lot to do with how that team's going to develop."

Malzahan is returning to Auburn after a year as the head coach at Arkansas State. He has a familiarity with the players on the roster as he recruited many of them while he was the offensive coordinator.

"The positive -- offensively -- is the fact that we actually recruited guys specifically for this offense," he said. "We'll just need those guys to step up in an accelerated pace."

The spread offense run at Auburn is very similar to the one at Opelika.

Mitchell said that was one of the biggest draws.

"I know it fits my style of play, and that is something that makes me feel comfortable about Auburn," he said. "I will know what to do already, and then knowing that Coach Malzahn is one of the best offensive minds in the country was something that put Auburn over the top."

Malzahn cannot comment specifically on unsigned prospects, but he said that it does make it easier to recruit players from a system that is similar to what he is going to run.

"The main thing, of course, is you can turn on a film and you can see talent-wise if they fit what you're doing, if they're talented enough to play at this level on your team," he said.

"We're very specific on what we're looking for offensively and defensively, not just from a talent standpoint, but also from a personal standpoint."

Currently Alabama is ranked No. 4 in recruiting and is poised to make its annual charge toward the top.

Auburn is lying in the weeds at No. 22 but has finished inside of the top 10 nationally each of the last four seasons.

Roberts is a big part of the reason Alabama is where it is ranked. He said that the honesty with which the staff has approached him is what will keep him loyal.

"They let me know that I can earn my spot," he said. "I am strong enough that I can play safety, I am fast enough that I can play corner and I am versatile enough to play nickel, so for me I have a lot of options and at a place like Alabama. With what they have done on the field and with getting guys to the next level, I can't pass that up."

[ MORE NATIONAL SELECT 7-ON-7: Top Defensive Performers ]

Roberts added that there is only about a one-percent chance that he changes his mind. For Mitchell that was all he needed to hear.

"I haven't even thought about us not being together because I know I can swing him to Auburn," Mitchell said. "I know that I am not going there because I committed and gave my word, so I have to get him to flip."

With a full football season to play -- and six-plus months until pen meets paper on National Letters of Intent -- fans that Roll Tide or cheer for their War Eagle can add yet another log to an already stoked fire.

"We are going to play ball together," Mitchell said. "For sure."

Time will tell.



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