College recruiting: Alabama pulls in top-rated haul of prospects
by Marq Burnett
mburnett@annistonstar.com
Feb 05, 2014 | 2529 views |  0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama Coach Nick Saban discusses the signing day successes of 2014. (AP Photo/The Birmingham News, Vasha Hunt)
Alabama Coach Nick Saban discusses the signing day successes of 2014. (AP Photo/The Birmingham News, Vasha Hunt)
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TUSCALOOSA -- Around this time last year, as Nick Saban prepared to recap the 2013 National Signing Day, he was already looking ahead to 2014.

At the time, many laughed it off as Saban being Saban, but it turned out to be foreshadowing.

That laser focus, among other things, helped the Crimson Tide clinch its fourth straight No. 1 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com.

So Saban’s beaming smile from ear to ear Wednesday showed signs of both happiness and a sense of relief as another stellar class was signed, sealed and delivered and 19 prospects were heading to Tuscaloosa in the summer to join the eight who begin classes in January.

“The biggest thing is this day is really an accumulation of a lot of hard work and a lot of time spent by a whole bunch of people,” Saban said Wednesday. “We recruit as a team here. A lot of people make a great contribution to that team.”

ESPN, 247Sports, Rivals.com and Scout ranked the Tide’s class as the best by a significant margin.

Heading into signing day, the Tide’s class was pretty much intact. Alabama maintained every commitment except one of what already was rated as the nation’s consensus best class by the recruiting services.

Even so, Alabama made the biggest splash of the day with Auburn High five-star linebacker Rashaan Evans picking the Tide over hometown Auburn University. Both of Evans’ parents attended Auburn. He grew up in Auburn and was long considered an Auburn lean.

“I really don’t think it makes a lot of difference where a guy’s from,” Saban said. “What we try to focus on here is the opportunity that a young man has here, and sometimes guys are just a little better fit for what they’re looking for, maybe what the critical factors of development that they might have through their college career and how they can contribute in a program that makes one place a little better than the other.”

The Tide’s reach stretched across 15 states. By position, the Tide added six offensive linemen, six defensive linemen, four defensive backs, four linebackers, two quarterbacks, two wide receivers, one athlete, one tight end and one punter.

“The important thing to have in this kind of recruiting class, which we feel sort of satisfies the needs we have,” Saban said. “I'm sure that every coach that stands up here today and talks about their recruiting class, I've never heard anybody say they've had a bad class. I've never heard anybody not say they didn't identify their needs. So I'm going to say the same thing.”

On paper, this class meets every need. Alabama’s offensive line was inconsistent in 2013, so the Tide added the nation’s top prep offensive tackle, the top two centers and the top junior college offensive tackle.

Alabama was never able to settle on a second cornerback last season, so the Tide signed two of the nation’s best cornerbacks, both of whom have track speed.

Alabama lost its three-year starting quarterback in AJ McCarron, so the Tide signed a transfer from Florida State (Jacob Coker) and one of the top prep pocket passers (David Cornwell of Oklahoma). Alabama’s pass rush was inconsistent, and the defensive line lost two starters. So the Tide brought in the nation’s top strongside defensive end and two junior prospect with the ability to contribute early. Oh, and don’t forget the punter to compete to replace the graduated starter.

“We thought we needed linemen on both sides of the ball. We felt we were a little thin last year in both of those areas,” Saban said. “Quarterback, obviously, is a critical position in any program, and we're very excited about the two young men we have coming in to those positions. We were thin in the secondary last year. We felt like we got some really good players at that position. One of the goals we have was to get a little more fast-twitch, quicker body type guys to play on the edges for us.

“We're playing against a lot more spread. I feel between the outside backer types we got as well as some of the more athletic kind of defensive ends we got that maybe we satisfied that need as well. We also needed a punter and we feel good about the punter we were able to attract in this class.”

For the players, it was all about being a part of a great class.

“It’s amazing. You look at this class and what we’ve done,” said Cornwell, one of eight early enrollees. “(We were) just in there talking about it. I didn’t know how elite it was. All our hard work has come down to this. Coaches have done a great job; really taught some of the recruits how to go out and do it ourselves. Really appreciate that from the coaches. Great experience.”

With that experience, a common goal of winning championships has developed.

“We’re a real close class. Everybody pretty much already knew each other,” said early enrollee Shaun Dion Hamilton, a linebacker. “A lot of recruits took their officials in January so we did a lot of hanging out that weekend. We’re a real close class and we plan on winning a lot of championships.”

While some analysts are naming Alabama’s recruiting haul the best since the modern rankings began, Saban won’t join that argument. But he did say his 2008 class that was ranked No. 1 nationally that year by Rivals is special to him. It helped produce three national titles.

“I can tell you now that you can take that class and say how many guys got drafted, how many guys had great careers,” he said. “They actually all proved that they were a great recruiting class. They had great team success here, won a national championship, and came here when this was not the sexy place to be. We were 7-6.

“So I guess that class is the one that’s closest to my heart, all right, because those guys bought in when they just believed that we were going to be able to be successful and they could make a great contribution to helping us be successful. That class really did.

“And I’m not making any comparisons to any classes, but I really do feel that the character of this class, as well as the ability of this class, I think I’m very pleased with. I will say that.”
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