Recruiter of the Year: Mario Cristobal
When Mario Cristobal arrived at Alabama in 2013, he came with coaching and recruiting experience in South Florida, one of the country's deepest talent wells. Two years later, during the 2015 recruiting cycle, he not only capitalized off his Southern Florida familiarity by landing two top prospects from Coconut Creek (Fla.), but he also helped the Tide land other top recruits, including elite in-state talent and a five-star from New Jersey.
For his efforts in helping the Tide to the No. 2 overall recruiting class for 2015, Cristobal has been named the 2015 Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year.
Cristobal, who serves as the Tide's offensive line coach, was the lead recruiter for five-stars Minkah Fitzpatrick (N.J.), Daron Payne (Ala.), and Calvin Ridley (Fla.), as well as four-stars Shawn Burgess-Becker (Fla.) and Lester Cotton (Ala.). Cristobal also recruited three-stars Matt Womack (Miss.) and Christian Bell (Ala.).
"Look at his out-of-state work," Rivals.com national recruiting director Mike Farrell said. "What he did in-state with Payne and Cotton - that's impressive. But he went into South Florida and landed the No. 1 receiver in the country in Ridley, and his teammate Burgess-Becker. Then he went up to New Jersey and took Fitzpatrick when everyone was recruiting him."
Landing verbal commitments is one thing. Holding onto those commitments through Signing Day is quite another, and Cristobal and Alabama managed to withstand the best efforts of several programs to secure Letters of Intent from the likes of Fitzpatrick, Ridley and Burgess-Becker.
"He held off Florida State with Fitzpatrick until the very end," Farrell said. "He held off Florida State and Miami for Ridley and Burgess-Becker. He did a great job continually recruiting those who were already committed."
And while many assumed Payne signing with Alabama was a foregone conclusion, Cristobal and the Tide had to hold off a strong charge from Auburn.
"The in-state battle with Payne and Auburn was a lot closer than most people think," Farrell said. "He had to do some good work there. He was not a lock."
Cristobal had plenty of success recruiting prospects in areas where he previously coached. He had served as an assistant on the staffs at Miami and Rutgers, and was head coach at FIU from 2007-12.
Cristobal becomes the second Tide assistant in three years to earn Recruiter of the Year honors, joining former Alabama receivers coach Mike Groh (2012). Former Tide linebackers coach Lance Thompson also won in 2008.
Cristobal beat out finalists from USC, who edged Alabama for No. 1 in team rankings, as well as LSU and Clemson. Though Alabama can point to three national titles ('09, '11, '12) and a proven winner in Nick Saban, Cristobal still had many challenges to overcome to land the top recruits.
"People think it's easy to recruit at Alabama," Farrell said. "That's not the case. Everyone is coming after these kids and there are some tremendous programs. It's not like you can just discount what (Cristobal) did because he's at Alabama. We looked at many other candidates in the country, and over and over we kept coming back to the job he did."
In a written statement, Cristobal said Saban, and the Crimson Tide football program as a whole, also deserve credit for the Tide's strong class.
"This recognition is a testament to Coach Saban and our entire program at the University of Alabama," Cristobal said. "Everything we do here, we do as a team and as a family. Being at such a special place like Alabama with Coach Saban the last couple of years, you gain a great appreciation in the fact that we are all here for the betterment and development of our student-athletes. His philosophy of providing an environment to help players develop on and off the field speaks for itself in terms of our academic success and graduation rates, as well as preparing players for the next level. I think recruits and their parents recognize that and they can trust that they are making the right decision for their son in the long-term.
"This 2015 class is really an outstanding group overall and they are not only talented, but also high-character guys who want to be the best. That's why they made the decision to come to school here."
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