Signing day: Bateman quickly adjusts to life at Alabama
Tuscaloosa, Ala. • When former Cottonwood High School quarterback Cooper Bateman first was recruited by Alabama, he said he pictured a flat, old state, "kind of like Oklahoma." What he actually found was much different.
"We came here and it was green everywhere, rolling hills," Bateman said. "And I fell in love with it instantly."
What Bateman also found was a logjam on the Crimson Tide's depth chart at quarterback, but also a chance to make a name for himself at a school that's won three of the last four BCS National Championships.
Bateman enrolled at Alabama in January and is part of a 2013 signing class that is ranked No. 1 in the country by both Rivals.com and 247Sports after Wednesday's national signing day.
The former Cottonwood standout is joined by two other quarterbacks in Alabama's 2013 class: Parker McLeod, a three-star prospect from Marietta, Ga., and Luke Del Rio, a preferred walk-on and the son of Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. The trio joins a group of four quarterbacks already on campus at Alabama, including AJ McCarron, who started and won the last two national championships.
But Bateman said Wednesday he isn't intimidated by the competition.
"When you come into a program like this, especially a top tier program like Alabama, there's going to be competition beforehand when you even get here," he said. "Coming in with two other quarterbacks, honestly, doesn't change anything in my mind."
Alabama coach Nick Saban said he is looking for a quarterback to groom to be his starter while McCarron plays out his senior year next season. While Saban wouldn't mention Bateman by name, he said the decision won't necessarily be based on experience.
"It doesn't happen by seniority," Saban said. "You probably look at it like, 'Well, this guy's been here the longest, so he gets the most chance.' If he's been here the longest, he's already had the most chances. If he hasn't taken advantage of those opportunities, then somebody else has a turn at getting those chances.
"I think that's how we'll manage the position a little bit so that we see if some of these young guys can sort of develop the way we'd like them to."
McLeod also enrolled in January, and he's roommates with Bateman this year. A light rivalry already has developed between the two, but it's one that surely will heat up as spring practice gets underway in March.
"Me and him are actually becoming really good friends," McLeod said about Bateman. "It's a friendly competition right now, but I'm sure on the field we're going to try to get the best of each other."
Saban says that the "game manager" reputation that his quarterbacks often are labeled is unfair. He expects his quarterbacks almost to be another coach on the field, making protection checks at the line and changing the play if necessary.
Bateman said that from the minute that Saban and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier spoke with him, it was clear that there would be a learning process both on and off the field.
"He said, 'We're looking for someone to come in here, learn the offense, know it inside and out so you can manage the game out there on the field,'" Bateman said about Saban. "When you get out there, you don't even need coaches because you're so well prepared and knowing what you need to do."
But along with the preparation and work ethic required to play starting quarterback at Alabama comes the fame and glory that Bateman has witnessed firsthand.
Bateman said that he walked down University Boulevard side-by-side with McCarron during Alabama's championship celebration parade in January. Everywhere he looked, fans were screaming McCarron's name.
"He's a celebrity around here," Bateman said about McCarron. "I just asked him if he ever gets used to it. And he said, 'If you have the opportunity, you're going to love it.' It's the best four or five years of his life."
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