Nick Saban’s helicopter tour makes stop to see top recruit Akeem Dent

2:32 p.m Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018 Sports
Alabama head coach Nick Saban is greeted by Tino Ierulli, Palm Beach Central high school football coach after arriving by helicopter for a recruiting visit to Palm Beach Central high school in Wellington, Florida on January 16, 2018. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Little more than a week after winning his sixth national championship,  Alabama football coach Nick Saban took to the skies above South Florida.

For the second time in a year, Saban arrived at a Palm Beach County school by helicopter. He visited Palm Beach Central on Tuesday to speak to the coaching staff about 2019 defensive back Akeem Dent, 2019 offensive and defensive lineman Renato Brown and 2020 wide receiver Bryan Robinson.

Nick Saban arrives by helicopter for a recruiting trip to Palm Beach Central a week after winning his 6th National Football Championship title. Saban is greeted by Tino Ierulli, head football coach at Palm Beach Central.

“We’re always going to be down here,” Saban said. “There’s always good players and there’s a lot of good programs, so we’re always going to be here. And we’ve had a lot of good players from this area.”

Saban arrived at about 10:45 a.m. in front of a crowd of school administrators, coaches and football players. He spent about half an hour on campus before leaving.

Due to NCAA recruiting rules, Saban could not meet directly with any of the players, but he is free to speak to the coaches — and arrive in show-stopping fashion.

“Well, we’re doing it because it’s the only efficient way to get around to go everywhere we need to go in a limited amount of time,” Saban said.

None of the players Saban came to talk about are Alabama commits. Dent, a borderline four- or five star recruit depending on the scouting service, is committed to Florida State. Brown, a three-star prospect, is committed to the Miami Hurricanes. Robinson, an unrated sophomore, is not committed anywhere but has offers from Florida, Kentucky, Louisville and more.

Dent, who was a Palm Beach Post Super 11 pick and the No. 1 player on the Post’s Too Early Top 20, is one of the most heralded recruits in Palm Beach County history. The recruiting website 247Sports ranks him as the No. 6 overall player in his class; the site’s composite rankings (which uses a formula that takes other recruiting sites’ rankings into account) places him at No. 14.

Dent received an Alabama offer in October, and Brown picked one up in December.

“They can’t meet with them or talk to them, so I’m sure them, knowing that he was here — I can only imagine how excited they were,” Broncos coach Tino Ierulli said.

“I’d be like a kid on Christmas Eve,” he added. “I’d just act all goofy and stupid. It’s great.”

The plans to get Saban on campus developed quickly, with Panunzzio (whose recruiting jurisdiction includes South Florida) letting Ierulli know that Saban was interested in coming by.

“When?” Ierulli said he told Panunnzio, laughing. “Just let me know when.”

From there Ierulli informed athletic director Raymond Atkins and the school administration, who got approval from the school district.

“They knew how to handle it,” Ierulli said. “We have great support. Our principal is phenomenal. … They were excited. They saidf this great for the school, for the players, for (Ierulli). We’ll make it happen.”

Ierulli said Saban and Alabama tight ends coach Joe Panunzzio talked about last week’s College Football Playoff title game while they visited.

“He was awesome,” Ierulli said. “He was just down to earth, like a people person. We were in the principal’s conference room: the principal, AD and myself and coach Joe, and it was great. He was telling about the national championship. That was awesome, just to talk about that and talk football with him.”

Saban has had mixed success recruiting Palm Beach County in recent years. He got Palm Beach Gardens linebacker VanDarius Cowan to come to Tuscaloosa out of the 2017 class, but he missed out on Wellington wide receiver Ahmmon Richards and Palm Beach Gardens safety Gurvan Hall (who Saban visited by helicopter last year). Those two players signed with the Miami Hurricanes in the 2016 and 2018 classes, respectively.

There is still nearly a year before the early signing period begins for the 2019 class, so there is plenty of time for these players to choose Alabama. In the meantime, Ierulli said Saban has an open invite to come back to Wellington, or vice versa.

“I asked him when I could go up there” Ierulli said. “(They said), ‘Open door, coach, if you ever want to come up. We’ll show you around.’ … They really look after the high school coaches because they know that we’ve got what they need and want.”