Enterprise's (Ala.) Raven Gray is the best defensive end and one of the top overall prospects in the state of Alabama for the class of 2006. That's saying a lot considering the Camellia State arguably has the most talent it's ever possessed inside its borders.
From top to bottom, quarterbacks to receivers, offensive lineman to defensive tackles, the state of Alabama has some of the nation's top recruits at each position.
Huffman's Andre Smith has already been rated a five-star prospect and the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country while Homewood's Tim Hawthorne and Wadley's Terrell Zachery are among the top 11 receivers in the U.S. And don't forget about Hoover-Spain Park's Neil Caudle, who is rated the No. 4 quarterback in the land.
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The quartet of high school stars, along with Gray, have solidified their spot as the top five prospects in the state in the most recent release of AuburnSports.com's Alabama Top 30. The group could easily end up being the most heavily recruited the state has ever seen.
Smith, Caudle, Hawthorne and Zachery all have numerous offers from some of the nation's premier programs including both in-state Auburn and Alabama. All find themselves ranked among the nation's top 100 overall prospects in the Rivals100. But while the four have received most of the early national media attention, it is Gray who is slowly making his move up the recruiting charts.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder burst onto the scene as a sophomore and validated his claim as one of the best during his junior season. In 2004, Gray totaled 75 tackles and 13 sacks on his way to being named honorable mention 5A all-state. His size, speed and quickness combined to form one of the biggest defensive threats from the end position.
Along with his performance last season on the football field, Gray was a standout among a talent-rich line-up at a recent Auburn camp. He has seen his stock soar among college coaches as well as in the rankings as he was recently tabbed the No. 4 overall prospect in the state behind only Smith, Caudle and Hawthorne.
"Somebody told me about the ranking," said Gray, who runs a 4.6 40-yard dash. "They said they went on the Internet and saw it. It's cool to be ranked that high, but I'm going to turn it up a notch and be ranked No. 2 or even No. 1 before it's over."
Regardless of where Gray ends up in the rankings, his choice of colleges to sign with in February will practically be endless. He already has scholarship offers from Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State among others, and is receiving heavy interest from many more including Tennessee, Florida and Florida State.
But while colleges from across the Southeast are extending invitations for him to play football, the senior-to-be is already a step ahead of the game. Gray is beginning to narrow that long list into an early top three, which includes childhood-favorite and 2004 SEC champion Auburn, 2003 co-national champion LSU and Ole Miss.
"A lot of schools are recruiting me, but Auburn and LSU are recruiting me the hardest," he said. "Ole Miss is coming hard too, but Auburn and LSU are my top two. It's pretty much between Auburn, LSU and maybe Ole Miss."
Gray has been around the Auburn program and has grown familiar with defensive end coach Terry Price as well as recruiting coach Steve Ensminger. His familiarity with the Plains as well as Price, who would be his position coach at Auburn, are two big reasons the Tigers find themselves high on his list.
"Coach Price is a great dude. He is fun to be around and I like everything about him. He's a motivator and I like that," said Gray. "I have been to Auburn a couple times and it's great up there. I grew up an Auburn fan and I've always dreamed of playing there. I grew up watching the Iron Bowl and have always thought about playing in that game."
Auburn was the early-on favorite to land Gray's signature, but LSU and recruiting coach Josh Henson have made a big push and are currently giving their SEC west-rival all it can handle to hold on to that No. 1 spot on his list.
"LSU, they have a great program down there," said Gray. "I don't know much about them, but they won the national championship a couple of years ago. I also talked to Coach Henson the other night and he was saying a lot of good stuff."
While many prospects have already made a verbal commitment to the school they plan to sign with, Gray doesn't expect to do so himself anytime soon. Although he has a short list of favorites, he still has some researching and visiting to do. He plans on taking trips to Baton Rouge as well as a couple of visits back to the Plains of Auburn.
"I will definitely visit Auburn and LSU," he said. "My decision will come down to wherever I get that feeling that I know it's the right place for me.
"It will probably be after the season when I make my decision."
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