April 3, 2008

Hankering to play

Since last fall, one by one, the answer has been the same: Darius Hanks.

The question - 'Which freshman receiver has impressed you the most?' - was more of an afterthought last fall when guys like Matt Caddell, D.J. Hall and Simeon Castille were answering it. Between Hall breaking school receiving records and Caddell turning in a career-best season, the progress of redshirt receivers wasn't exactly a pressing matter.

Now, it's pressing.

In fact, with seniors Hall, Caddell and Keith Brown out of the mix, it's as big a question mark for the Alabama football team as any during spring practice. And Hanks continues to be the answer.

No matter who is asked.

"That boy is going to be something special," said Mike McCoy, UA's leading returning pass catcher. "That boy has a lot of talent. He's the right size to be in the slot, he gets mismatches, and he's quick."

One catch for six yards in mop-up time against Western Carolina was all Alabama fans got to see of Hanks last season; not exactly a foundation for excitement. On April 12, many Alabama fans will get their first extended look at the Norcross, Ga., native. But if Hanks doesn't make a significant impact on the passing game in 2008, it would appear his teammates will be more surprised than anyone.

"He's balling right now," said veteran receiver Nikita Stover. "He's just a complete package. He's getting his blocking right, he runs good routes and has great hands."

For a three-star recruit who wasn't even on the radar of former coach Mike Shula, Hanks arrived at the Capstone in relative obscurity. At the time then-new UA coach Nick Saban began recruiting him, Hanks' offer list wasn't exactly a 'who's who' list for college football: UAB, Jacksonville State, Houston, and a few other schools that don't play the Southeastern Conference unless a paycheck is involved.

But none doubt he belongs now.

"[Hanks] has probably been a little more consistent than the rest in terms of his ability to make plays," Saban said earlier this spring.

This fall, Hanks may be the answer to more than just a media question - he may be the answer to one of the team's questions as well. Given the uncertainty of who will emerge as UA's top receiver, and the pending arrival this fall of some highly-touted incoming freshmen, the time to make an impression for UA's seven scholarship receivers is now. Hanks, for one, already has.

"I'm on him most of the time against the slotback, being the nickel," said cornerback Javier Arenas. "He comes off the ball real well, runs a nice route, and he's going to snag the ball out of the air. Even when you compete for the ball in the air, he knows how to get position on the defender, and he's doing it at such a young age its kind of shocking."

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