Valley Preps

Central LB Markail Benton verbally commits to Alabama over Auburn, Florida State

Markail Benton’s younger brother Cameron is going to have to work on the chant, but the two-year-old’s Alabama jersey gave it away.

The Central linebacker brought his brother on stage to help reveal Benton’s college decision in front of a crowd of teammates, friends and family at the high school’s auditorium Friday afternoon. Cameron needed a couple tries to nail the “Roll Tide” slogan, but the crowd cheered at each attempt.

Benton picked Alabama from a narrowed down list of three schools, which included early-favorite Auburn and Florida State.

“When I took visits to Alabama last time, I had a great time at the camp,” Benton said. “They have great coaches and great facilities. I mean you can’t better coaching than Alabama with coach Saban.”

Benton’s decision took shape over the last week after visits to both Auburn’s and Alabama’s campus. The opportunity to play for coach Nick Saban and a national title contender — “I mean Alabama wins championships, they win games” — proved impossible to pass up.

“Auburn is a great school don’t get me wrong,” Benton said. “They have a great facility to. They are 30 minutes up the road. I would take visits up to Auburn every weekend, but Alabama has better coaching.”

The decision even surprised his coach Jamey DuBose.

“I’m going to be honest, I would have bet a month and a half, two months ago it was going to be Auburn,” DuBose said. “He changed along the way.”

The 4-star prospect is ranked as a top 10 player in the state and top 100 overall recruits in the country by 247 Sports.

Benton had narrowed his list down to three schools at the start of June. He has 19 scholarships 19 offers from power five schools including Clemson, LSU, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia and Michigan.

The defender’s original plan was to wait until the Under Armour All-American game to make the announcement, but the stress of being one of the top prospects in the country lost its luster.

“In the beginning he had fun with it, but as it got later into it he started getting frustrated and it was starting to wear on him,” Markail’s father B.J. Benton said. “He was tired of all the pressure.”

It was something DuBose picked up on as well.

“It’s kind of torn at him,” DuBose said, echoing comments he made to the Ledger-Enquirer earlier in the week. “I think it just got to a point he wants to play his senior year and put it behind him.”

According to Rivals, Benton is the 12th player to join Alabama’s 2017 recruiting class and third linebacker. He will join Carver’s Mekhi Brown, who will be a redshirt freshman linebacker for the Tide this fall.

Alabama’s tentative plan for Benton is to use him at inside linebacker on first and second down then shift him over to the outside so he can rush the quarterback on third downs. DuBose anticipates the Tide’s coaching staff being creative with the versatile defender.

“They are getting a dynamic player that can run real well, he’s got tremendous size to play inside, he’s a guy that we use inside and outside,” DuBose said. “He’s one of the only guys in my career I’ve seen that is 6-3, 240 runs like he does, can cover a wide receiver, cover a slot guy, can sit inside and handle the bigs getting on him.”

Benton, who isn’t planning on taking any other visits, is unsure if he will enroll at Alabama early or wait until the summer to report to Tuscaloosa.

“The thing is if I decide to play basketball I won’t (enroll early),” Benton said.

Benton’s immediate focus is on bring home a championship this fall in football.

“I could already tell the difference this morning,” B.J. Benton said. “It feels like he’s free now all he has to do is go to school and play football.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra