By Matthew Osborne
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As of yesterday afternoon, the Iron Bowl rivalry just picked up its newest hero or villain, depending on which side you ask.
The nation’s No. 2 overall prospect, LB Reuben Foster, called a press conference at his high school yesterday to announce that he was de-committing from Alabama in order to give his verbal pledge to Gene Chizik and the Auburn Tigers.
In a state where your personal identification is most closely associated with your college affiliation, such a drastic move on the recruiting front cannot be overlooked.
While the Iron Bowl has always been one of the premiere rivalries in college football, a series of recent events have taken the unadulterated hatred between the two fan bases to new heights of malevolence. Whether it be the Cam Newton recruiting scandal, Harvey Updyke’s alleged poisoning of Auburn’s famous trees at Toomer’s Corner, or the fact that the two schools have combined to win the last three BCS national championships, it is safe to say that the amount of animosity in the rivalry has never been greater.
For any rivalry to be considered the premiere rivalry in the nation, individual characters must be vilified and reviled. Cam Newton recently became the next great hated Tiger player by Alabama fans everywhere, while Harvey Updyke is abhorred by Auburn fans for his alleged actions.
While the vast majority of the most loathed players in the history of the rivalry are former players and coaches, in recent years future participants in the rivalry have found a way to alienate themselves from half of the Yellowhammer State.
Foster is the fourth high school prospect in the last three recruiting classes to commit to either Auburn or Alabama, only to controversially make the switch to the arch-rival.
Ranked behind only DE Robert Nkemdiche in the 2013 class, Foster originally gave his verbal commitment to the Crimson Tide in July of last year. Although he continued to take visits and field phone calls from colleges around the country, Foster went on the record numerous times expressing that there was “no chance” he would de-commit from Alabama.
While Foster made the switch from Roll Tide to War Eagle, the previous three recruits that flipped went in the opposite direction.
Four-star RB T.J. Yeldon made the flip from Auburn to Alabama during the most recent recruiting cycle, while five-star OT Cyrus Kouandjio made a similar flip during the 2011 recruiting cycle. Four-star LB Brent Calloway actually switched from Alabama to Auburn, before committing back to Alabama on National Signing Day.
Kouandjio’s de-commitment certainly received the most press attention of the three. Ranked as one of the top overall prospects in the 2011 class, Kouandjio was expected to make his announcement and sign his letter of intent on National Signing Day. At a press conference held on National Signing Day, Kouandjio stepped to the microphone and announced that he would be playing his college ball for the Auburn Tigers.
Mere moments later, rumors began to surface that Kouandjio had doubts about his decision and was starting to re-think his college destination. After a few days of careful analysis, Kouandjio officially signed his letter of intent with the Crimson Tide.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of any successful program. Without success in recruiting, national titles are impossible to attain.
For arguably the two most fanatical fan bases in the entire country, prospects that commit to their school instantly become a beloved member of the extended family. Prospects that decide to “betray” their new family for the family’s mortal enemies, however, are treated as Benedict Arnolds.
Whether or not such pure disdain for a 17 or 18-year old kid is justifiable, it is situations like these which make the Iron Bowl the nation’s premiere rivalry.
Foster, Yeldon, Calloway and Kouandjio are four of the most polarizing figures in the state of Alabama, but they are also three of the biggest reasons that the rivalry has reached new heights.
Photo credit: The War Eagle Reader