MUSCLE SHOALS — The crowd packed in the Muscle Shoals High School auditorium erupted with cheers at the announcement.
With ESPN cameras rolling live Wednesday, Trojans standout Dee Liner donned an Alabama hat and officially declared his commitment to play football for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama quickly confirmed on Twitter that it had received Liner’s signed National Letter of Intent.
It was a long time coming, of little surprise to many and considered inevitable by some who had long predicted Liner eventually landing with Alabama, even before he decommitted from Auburn in January.
Liner seemed to express some regret with the way things turned out at Auburn after it decided not to retain any of fired coach Gene Chizik’s staff. But he also said he’s happy to finally be able to move on after two years under the recruiting microscope, and that he’s thrilled about his future in Tuscaloosa.
“It’s a blessing come true,” Liner said. “I made this decision based on how they can take their players and turn them into men and make them the best they can be.”
Liner, regarded as one of the best defensive linemen in the country and top overall prospects in the state, had verbally committed to Auburn before his junior season in 2011.
Even amid rumors of his wavering, Liner repeatedly reaffirmed his pledge to Auburn, even after Chizik was fired. But his feelings changed when none of that coaching staff was retained, including recruiting coordinator Trooper Taylor.
“Since the (Auburn) coaches had got fired, it just really made me think about it,” Liner said. “They did not leave one coach from that old coaching staff, and they just really made me change my mind. The next staff I was closest to, that was Alabama.”
When asked what he would have done if any of the assistants on Chizik’s staff had stayed at Auburn, Liner’s response was telling. “I probably would have still went to Auburn,” Liner said. “I had a good relationship with Trooper Taylor and my D-line coach, coach (Mike) Pelton. Of course, he’s at Georgia Tech now. I just wish they would have kept the old coaching staff. They probably would have had a chance.” Liner came into signing day rated a four-star prospect by Rivals and Scout and the No. 3 overall prospect in the state and No. 7 strongside defensive end nationally by Rivals.
His stock with the recruiting sites peaked when he was named a five-star prospect just before the start of his senior season, but two scrapes with the law within a 10-day period in July followed by a brief suspension from the Muscle Shoals team followed.
Liner missed the season-opening game for the Trojans but returned to put together a dominant season, totaling 72 tackles, 23 sacks and an interception. He was selected to the Under Armour All-America Game and the USA TODAY’s All-USA team.
Muscle Shoals coach Scott Basden defended his player against the negative publicity he received, saying he felt it was blown out of proportion.
“Nobody has told the story how there is no arrest record and the charges were dropped,” Basden said. “Things sell papers and it makes news, but at the end of the day, that’s a fine young man and he’s a kid I hope and pray my children turn out to be like.”
Liner said his final five came down to Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss.
Alabama recruiting coordinator Mike Groh persisted in pursuing Liner through his commitment to Auburn, something Liner and Basden cited as a reason for his signing with the Tide.
“Coach Groh, he had been there a lot for me,” Liner said. “We probably talked almost every day. Just giving me good things to think about.” Liner said Alabama coaches plan to use him at defensive end, and he hopes to make an early impact.
“I’d like to get back there a little at Jack linebacker, but it will probably be defensive end,” he said.
“By Damion Square and them D-linemen leaving, I think I’ll have a chance to get in there and play early.”
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or email@example.com..