OPELIKA, Ala. -- When you grow up in Alabama, it’s either Roll Tide or War Eagle. There’s no in between, and there’s certainly no love lost between the two in-state rivals. That’s what makes the Iron Bowl rivalry so unique.
“I think the Alabama-Auburn game is one of the great rivalries in college football,” Opelika High School coach Brian Blackmon said. “I think the history of the game speaks for itself, and there are very few fence riders in Alabama. Most of them are on one side or the other. You’d have a hard time finding somebody, especially this week, saying they don’t care who wins.”
It’s no different for the state’s top football recruits. It’s rare to see an ESPN 300 recruit from the state go anywhere but Alabama or Auburn, but it’s even more rare to see an Alabama fan commit to Auburn or vice versa.
That’s why Opelika defensive back Stephen Roberts, who is ranked No. 69 in the ESPN 300, caught a lot of people off guard when he committed to the Crimson Tide in the spring.
Sure, Alabama had just won its second consecutive national championship, and coach Nick Saban has a reputation for sending defensive backs to the next level. But Roberts grew up an Auburn fan. He lives just a hop, skip and a jump away from the AU campus.
“For a kid like Stephen that grew up going to Auburn University and watching them play, it was really kind of a surprise in the spring when he decided he was going to Alabama,” Blackmon said.
But the Auburn coaches, specifically offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, stayed on him. They continued to recruit the ESPN 300 target.
“They didn’t quit,” Roberts said. “Even though I was committed to Alabama, they didn’t drop my scholarship or anything. It kind of felt like I was still part of them.”
The efforts paid off. Roberts attended Auburn’s camps over the summer. He has been to every home game this season, including the Tigers' dramatic win over Georgia their last time out. He said it was the loudest he had ever heard Jordan-Hare Stadium when Ricardo Louis pulled in the game-winning touchdown grab from Nick Marshall.
Roberts has been a part of Auburn’s miraculous turnaround every step of the way, and last week, he decided he wanted to be a part of the future, too. He flipped his commitment from Alabama to Auburn, a decision that looked more and more plausible with every Tigers victory.
“I basically wanted to see what they were going to do this year,” Roberts said. “They kind of showed what they were going to do, and even though they only lost one game, they’re still rising.”
Auburn has risen all the way to No. 4 in the latest BCS standings, and whether it was Roberts’ decision to flip or the recent come-from-behind win against Georgia, the Tigers seem to have all the momentum heading into Saturday’s matchup with No. 1 Alabama. But do they have what it takes to topple the Tide?
Regardless of which side you’re on, it’s setting up to be one of the all-time great games in this series, and Auburn’s new four-star commitment will be on hand to see it. It will be his first Iron Bowl experience.
“There’s nothing like it,” Roberts said. “It’s going to be a good game between both teams because both teams play hard.
“It’s always been a big rivalry since I was little. I think I’ve been knowing about it since I first started playing football. I remember watching Trent Richardson on TV one day -- he was talking about when he came to Alabama, he didn’t know Auburn was a big rival coming from where he came from. I know it’s big. It’s always been big.”
So when it comes to picking a side Saturday, Roberts has already made his choice.