On the morning of Halloween, students inside the auditorium of Friendship Collegiate formed a line on the stage to get a picture with star defensive back Jalen Tabor , who had just been presented with a formal invitation to play in the Under Armour All-American Game in January. Tabor stood in front of countless flashes from camera phones, and after all those were done and the kids headed back to class, he answered questions about his recruitment. He talked about his affection for his hometown school, Maryland, and his upcoming trips to college football powerhouses Alabama and Florida.
But Tabor never counted out a fourth school in Arizona, a campus 2,300 miles from Minnesota Avenue in Northeast, a school that carried players from Pennsylvania and Florida and South Africa in 2013, but none remotely close to the Washington area. On Thursday, Tabor gave the Wildcats not only a chance. He gave them a glimpse into their future.
Tabor committed to Arizona during Thursday’s Under Armour All-America Game in Florida, choosing the Wildcats over Alabama on a day when he performed well. Against the country’s best players, Tabor was aggressive. He was physical in run support, making several tackles from his cornerback position. He was equally impressive in coverage, which included an acrobatic pass breakup during the second half shortly after he had, to many onlookers, made the most surprising commitment move of the day.
“It’s a very family atmosphere. I feel like they need just a little spark to get them over the edge,” Tabor said of Arizona late Thursday night. “And I feel like that spark.”
The 6-foot-1, 188-pound Tabor had initially cut down his extensive offer list to Alabama, Arizona, Florida and Maryland last fall, then narrowed that group to the Crimson Tide and Wildcats last week. Tabor was listed as ESPN’s 15th rated player in the country in class of 2014.
With his decision, Tabor becomes the second Friendship Collegiate player to commit to Arizona, joining senior running back Jonathan Haden. The presence of Haden played an important role in Tabor’s decision, he said.
“It was a factor, just him going there, just knowing that I have someone there to have my back regardless the situation,” Tabor said. “Good or bad, I know he’s going to be there for me.”
A two-time All-Met, Tabor intercepted five passes and posted 17 pass breakups as a senior, helping the Knights to a second consecutive appearance in the DCSAA AA championship game. A dynamic athlete who blended a long frame with top-shelf speed to star in all three phases of the game at Friendship, Tabor turned heads with his freakish ability this week during Under Armour All America Game practices, adding intrigue to his college decision.
Tabor is the fourth Friendship player in three years to compete in the all-star event in St. Petersburg behind Eddie Goldman (Florida State) in 2011 and Yannick Ngakoue (Maryland) and Derwin Gray (Maryland) in 2012.
It capped a wild week for Tabor, who in a span of four days, celebrated his 18th birthday, wowed recruiting analysts at the event’s practices and decided on where he would spend his time playing college future. He also faced countless questions about his decision, including why he was attracted to Alabama and why Maryland had been dropped form his list last week. By Thursday, neither was at the forefront.
Tabor knew Thursday morning that he would be attending Arizona, he said. He didn’t eat before the game. He didn’t ruminate about his choice. He was just relieved to “go and play some football.”
“It was really hard, at the end of the day,” Tabor said. “But the decision had to be made, for the betterment of me.”
Post reporter Brandon Parker contributed to this report.
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