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June 29, 2012
As soon as his family decided to move out of state, five-star linebacker Reuben Foster knew the rumors would start.
Foster, the No. 2 overall player in the 2013 recruiting class, was preparing to begin his junior year at LaGrange (Ga.) Troup County High School last summer when he committed to Alabama. After Troup County coach Charles Flowers was fired in February, Foster's family moved to a new town about 40 miles southwest of his former school.
Of all the places in the country, where did they choose to go? Foster and his family moved to Auburn, Ala.
Foster joins an Auburn (Ala.) High team that includes the sons of Auburn University running backs coach Curtis Luper (uncommitted three-star 2013 athlete Cameron Echols-Luper) and receivers coach Trooper Taylor (uncommitted 2014 wide receiver/cornerback Blaise Taylor). Foster hadn't even finished unpacking by the time speculation began about a potential switch in his commitment from Alabama to Auburn.
"I hear that every day, people saying I'm going to flip, I'm going to flip," Foster said. "I hear it every day. I'm like, 'You don't know it until it happens.' I'm solidly committed."
Assuming he sticks to that commitment, Foster would become that rare recruit who goes to high school in a college town, only to sign with that particular college's most heated rival.
At least a couple of other players in this class could make similar moves
Michigan's list of verbal commitments includes Jaron Dukes, a three-star wide receiver from Columbus (Ohio) Marion Franklin. The Wolverines also have commitments from Pickerington (Ohio) North tight end Jake Butt and Pickerington (Ohio) Central defensive end Taco Charlton, a pair of four-star prospects who go to high school in a Columbus suburb. None of the three had Ohio State offers.
An offer from Florida State couldn't stop Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln linebacker James Hearns from committing to Florida instead. Hearns even earned some national publicity earlier this month when the Rivals250 prospect was kicked out of a Florida State 7-on-7 event after doing the Gator chomp to celebrate a big play.
Why didn't he just decide to stay home and play for the Seminoles?
"Initially, I definitely gave it a lot of thought," said Hearns, the No. 8 inside linebacker and No. 174 overall prospect in his class. "Why go anywhere else when I can stay home and be close to my family? But Gainesville's not too far. I just decided I didn't want to be stuck in Tallahassee forever. There's a world out there I need to explore on my own. Florida's that distance where it's not too far, but it's not too close either."
Hearns also analyzed the depth charts at each school he was considering and determined he had a better chance of early playing time at Florida.
Although Lincoln has sent numerous players to Florida State over the years, Hearns' school also has a connection to the Gators. Kevin Carter is a Lincoln alum who earned All-America honors as a Florida defensive end in 1994 and went on to receive two Pro Bowl invitations in a 14-year NFL career. Raphael Andrades, a three-star receiver from Lincoln, signed with Florida in February. Lincoln's offensive coordinator is former Gator receiver Jacquez Green, whose 63-yard reception set up the winning field goal in Florida's 32-29 victory over a top-ranked Florida State team in 1997 that prevented the Seminoles from playing for the national title.
But this still represents a case of a Tallahassee kid turning down a Florida State offer to play for the Seminoles' chief rival. That naturally leads to some teasing whenever Hearns goes out.
"Everybody's happy for me going to college, but not everybody's happy with the decision, of course," Hearns said. "I've had on my Florida gear and been around town, and people I don't even know are telling me, 'You have on the wrong shirt,' and stuff like that. A lot of people hassle me about it, but it's all in fun. I laugh at it."
Foster faces a similar situation at Auburn High.
"I hear a whole lot of that," Foster said. "But I still also hear people stopping me in the mall and saying, 'Roll Tide.' There are a lot of Auburn fans, but there also are a lot of Alabama fans in Auburn."
One thing that may have made their decisions easier is that these players didn't grow up rooting for their hometown schools. Hearns said he cheered for Miami as a kid. Foster wasn't even an Auburn resident until recently. And even though Dukes grew up in Columbus, he has said he's a life-long Michigan fan.
"I think what made me draw closer to them so much is because here in Ohio they're looked at as the bad guys, and I was kind of drawn to that," Dukes told TheWolverine.com after committing to Michigan in February. "Everybody's rooting for Ohio State and I wanted somebody else to root for, and I fell in love with [Michigan]."
That might have made their decisions to commit to a rival school somewhat easier than it would have been for someone like Lincoln (Neb.) Southwest linebacker Josh Banderas, a Rivals250 recruit and the son of former Nebraska tight end Tom Banderas.
Banderas decided to stay home and committed to Nebraska in April.
"I thought about it real long and hard for a while," Banderas said. "Do I want to start something else like my dad did, coming from another state [Missouri] to Nebraska? But there's such an advantage to being 10 minutes away from home that everybody else doesn't have. I couldn't pass it up."
He can only imagine how Lincoln residents might have reacted if he had chosen one of Nebraska's rivals instead.
"I think it would have been a real kind of dent to everybody, 'Why is this kid leaving? What did we do wrong?' '' Banderas said.
Auburn residents shouldn't feel that kind of despair.
For one thing, Foster just moved there recently. Auburn fans also still have several months to hope Foster changes his mind. Although Foster insists he remains solidly committed to Alabama and says his move to Auburn shouldn't suggest anything about his eventual college destination, he still constantly hears the questions.
"It doesn't bother me," Foster said. "I don't let it get to my head."
Foster may be a newcomer to the state of Alabama, but he's lived there long enough to know the speculation will continue until he finally signs his letter of intent.