Lane Kiffin inherited a 5-star quarterback commit when he accepted the offensive coordinator position at Alabama. However, his relationship with Ricky Town lasted just two weeks, as the coveted California prospect flipped to USC in late January and created a glaring need in the Crimson Tide's 2015 recruiting class.
The hunt for a premier passer has seeped into the early stages of summer, turning Alabama's attention back to the West Coast. Anaheim product Travis Waller is the latest target following a series of whiffs with other options.
The 4-star recruit revealed four favorites Monday night and shared that he expects to announce a decision July 1:
The Crimson Tide made the cut, joining Notre Dame, Northwestern and Ohio State as his top contenders. Alabama extended an offer May 17, midway through a busy month for the 6'3", 190-pound Servite High School standout.
Waller's recruitment escalated during the final stretch of spring, capped off by a Notre Dame offer last week. An opportunity to play in Tuscaloosa represented a big step in the process for Waller, according to Servite head coach A.J. Gass.
"He was very excited," Gass told Drew Champlin of AL.com. "The attention of getting a school like Alabama to notice you is really, really something to be proud of. The tradition they have of winning, the exposure and the SEC, all the big things you think about in college football."
His enthusiasm toward the Tide remains evident. Just one day after announcing his top four, Waller was en route to Tuscaloosa:
Alabama stands out among his finalists because, unlike the other three, the program isn't known as a place where dual-threat quarterbacks flourish. Head coach Nick Saban has won three titles with the Tide while relying on a strong rushing attack and accurate pocket passers.
AJ McCarron and Greg McElroy combined to rush for five total touchdowns during the past five seasons.
Travis Waller brings a much different skill set to the field. He rushed for 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, averaging nearly eight yards per carry.
So what's the appeal at Alabama, where NFL-caliber running backs have long ruled the rushing lanes?
Well, let's start with the fact that Saban decided he needed to shake things up offensively following a 2013 season that ended with the team's first losing streak in five years. The move to hire Kiffin provided a clear indication that dynamics might change, though it may be a slow and steady progression that maintains the head coach's basic offensive principles.
Just take a look at the kind of quarterbacks Alabama has offered in recent months.
Brandon Wimbush picked up an offer from the Tide May 1, four days before he pledged to Penn State. Rated No. 5 nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, the New Jersey prospect gained nearly 12 yards per rushing attempt and reached the end zone seven times as a runner in 2013, per NJ.com.
Blake Barnett, another California quarterback, added an Alabama offer to his collection in February despite a commitment to Notre Dame. He rushed for nearly 700 yards and 13 scores last season, ranking third among dual-threat talents in the 2015 class.
Barnett backed off his pledge to the Fighting Irish last week and will visit Alabama in the near future, his head coach told AL.com. Alabama is clearly open to the idea of moving forward with a quarterback who can do damage with his legs, and it's not just a desperation move as options at the position dwindle.
"They were telling me I could come in and compete and they think I could excel in their offense," Barnett told 247Sports reporter Justin Hopkins (subscription required).
When you consider the prospect of combining Alabama's rotating backfield of beastly backs with a quarterback who can tuck the ball and take off with effectiveness, it's easy to see why Saban may be shifting toward a new look down the line.
After all, he knows exactly how challenging it is to game-plan for dual-threat quarterbacks after battling the likes of Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow during his tenure with the Tide. Perhaps he's ready to flip the script.
It's important to note that Waller is no slouch in the pocket. He averaged 20 pass attempts per contest as a junior, tallying nearly 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air.
Waller remains relatively raw from a mechanical standpoint and is likely to spend at least a year or two on the sidelines in college as he develops a more polished delivery and develops his downfield reads.
Alabama would he investing in a player with the proverbial "high ceiling." Waller would be investing in an offensive scheme open to innovation.
The Tide are in pursuit of multiple quarterbacks who can extend plays and create offense when things break down in the passing game. Based on coaching track records, Waller may find an attack more tailored to his skills elsewhere, but he won't be able to replicate the supporting cast that would await him in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama is well on its way to a fifth consecutive No. 1 running class, collecting several new weapons for an offense already overflowing with playmakers. Waller would join a group of pledges that already includes two of the country's top wide receivers in Calvin Ridley and Daylon Charlot, along with 4-star rusher Desherrius Flowers, the latest addition to a stable of explosive backs.
Waller has an opportunity to explore Saban and Kiffin's offensive vision this week while spending time on campus. If he likes the sales pitch, July could bring a long-awaited quarterback commit to Alabama, where Waller would provide expanded possibilities for the Tide attack in the years to come.
Recruit information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
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