Cottonwood High's Cooper Bateman chooses Alabama, brings prestige to state's prep football programs
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
MURRAY — One of Utah's best high school quarterbacks will play football for SEC power Alabama.
With more than 50 offers and a four-star rating by scouting services, he becomes the state's highest-rated quarterback produced by Utah since the advent of both rivals and scout.com. His commitment rivals that of Highland's Haloti Ngata (Oregon), Cottonwood's John Martinez (USC), Timpview's Xavier Su'a-Filo (UCLA) or Matt Reynolds (BYU).
"I was least excited to visit Alabama," said Bateman Wednesday night. "In the end, it was the complete opposite."
He said he was struck by the rolling green hills, massive trees and beautiful campus when he and his mother arrived for an unofficial visit last month. But it was the way he felt that convinced him to play for the defending national champions in 2013.
"I had this feeling, aside from football," he said. "It was like home away from home."
Bateman's trip to Alabama included stops at LSU, Auburn and Florida. He said he never imagined he'd be committing to one of college football's powerhouses when he started the recruiting process two years ago.
"At the start of this whole process, I didn't know where I'd end up," he said. "Honestly, I didn't know if I could play in a conference like that."
But as he evolved as a player, and the offers came from all over the country, he began to see the possibilities of playing for a program with "that history, tradition and everything. I feel honored."
He's not worried about the pressure that he knows will accompany playing for such a high profile program.
"You can feel pressure any place you go," he said. "It's life or death down there. But I think that's a good thing."
He said fans that expect a lot are also extremely supportive and he's planning to use that energy and expectation to push himself. He also knows he may have to convince some people he can play at that level as he ventures into a situation no other Utah prep quarterback has gone.
"There might be people who think I can't play because I'm from Utah," he said. "But what I'd like to do is come out and prove them wrong."
He said meeting with head coach Nick Saban was an impressive experience.
"What an experience to play and learn from someone like that," said Bateman.
As a junior last fall, the honor student threw for 2,484 yards and 25 touchdowns (as well as rushing for three others).
"Bateman has one of the biggest arms in the country, and will wow you with his arm strength," said Greg Biggins, Scout's top quarterback evaluator. "He can really drive the ball down the field and shows the live arm you love to see but can also throw with touch as well. He throws a great deep ball with timing and accuracy and also does a nice job getting outside the pocket and throwing on the run. He's a shotgun guy but shows excellent feet and won't have a problem getting under center in college."
Bateman said he wanted to commit before the summer so he could focus on getting better and his senior season with the Colts.
And while the self-effacing young man is grateful for the opportunities his skills have earned him, he is willing to admit he's ready to finish the recruiting process.
"The process is fun, and it's been an enjoyable ride for me and my whole family," he said. "But it's a grind. It's a lot of phone calls, and it does get annoying."
He said it was a difficult decision, but one that his parents encouraged him to make for himself.
"They support me 100 percent," he said. "They wanted me to go where I felt comfortable. My mom could tell I liked Alabama right away."
Bateman's commitment could provide more opportunities for other prep athletes as it raises the profile of Utah players around the country.
"If he goes there and really tears it up, he may open some eyes to the fact that there are good athletes here," said Bingham head coach Dave Peck, whose team has faced Bateman twice.
While recruiters from all over the country have traveled to Utah for a handful of kids, this is the highest rated quarterback to sign with an SEC program. And not only is Bateman headed to a tough conference, he's competing for the most high-profile role on the defending national championship team.
"He's a great kid," said Peck. "On paper there is no reason why he couldn't go on and be successful at any program in the country. He's strong, and to me, he seems to be the whole package."
His decision to leave Utah also helps convince recruiters from far-away conferences that Utah athletes are willing to sign out-of-state.
"We've gotten a knock from some recruiters because they think our kids won't go out of state," he said. "It's just got to be the right fit. Obviously, in Cooper's position, he feels good about going to Alabama, which nationally is year in and year out a top-five team. He's asked himself where he has the best chance to succeed … and you're not going to get any higher than that."
In announcing his choice, Bateman also thanked his family and coaches for helping him navigate the complicated process.
"I want to thank my coaches at Cottonwood for all they have done for me and mostly to my parents who have made this all possible," he said.
Cottonwood offensive coordinator Scott Cate said that most elite quarterbacks are committing early these days. Bateman will be participating in the Elite 11 in July and could actually move up the depth chart with scouting services. He plans to enroll at Alabama in January of 2013, and he currently has a 3.7 GPA.