published Friday, February 21st, 2014

Alabama's flurry of elite prospects began with Saban's first full class

  • photo
    Julio Jones was the first Crimson Tide true freshman receiver to start a season opener.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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    In 2011, Trent Richardson racked up a school-record 1,679 yards and 21touchdowns for the Crimson Tide.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Alabama signed a record six Rivals.com five-star football prospects earlier this month and has signed at least three in six of the past seven years.

It wasn't always this way.

When the Crimson Tide experienced turbulence on the field a decade ago, their recruiting efforts were lagging as well. Alabama signed just three five-star players from 2002, when Rivals.com began its rankings, through 2007.

Everything changed with Nick Saban's first full signing class in 2008, when Julio Jones came aboard and was joined the following winter by Trent Richardson. Yet not every five-star under Saban has translated into five-star talent.

A look at the list:

DERRICK POPE (2002) -- The linebacker transfer from Garden City (Kan.) Community College had 65 tackles on the inside in 2002 and 105 tackles and five sacks from the outside in '03. He was an All-SEC selection in '03 and several months later was a seventh-round pick of the Miami Dolphins, where he played from 2004 to '07.

MIKE FORD (2006) -- Ford was a four-star Crimson Tide signee in 2005 out of Sarasota, Fla., and was a five-star the following winter after a season at Hargrave (Va.) Military. He could not get academically eligible at Alabama and enrolled at South Florida in January 2007. Ford rushed for 1,502 yards and 23 touchdowns in three seasons with the Bulls, capping USF's 2009 season with a 207-yard performance in a win over Northern Illinois at the International Bowl. He was kicked off the team before his senior year.

ANDRE SMITH (2006) -- Smith started at left tackle as a true freshman, was All-SEC as a sophomore and earned All-America honors and the Outland Trophy as a junior. He was suspended from the team several days before the 2008 Tide had to face Utah in the Sugar Bowl, reportedly for dealing with an agent, and he quickly declared for the 2009 NFL draft. Woefully out of shape at the NFL combine and at Alabama's pro day, Smith still managed to become the sixth overall pick and remains with the team that selected him, the Cincinnati Bengals.

JULIO JONES (2008) -- Jones and Georgia signee A.J. Green provided quite an SEC three-year receiving tandem, with Jones becoming the first Crimson Tide true freshman receiver to start a season opener. He caught 58 passes for 924 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman and caught 78 for 1,133 with seven scores as a junior. He bypassed his final year and was the sixth overall pick of the 2011 draft, by the Atlanta Falcons. Jones had an All-Pro season in 2012 but missed most of last season due to injury.

TYLER LOVE (2008) -- The touted tackle prospect from the Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook had his freshman year derailed by a stress fracture and never wound up playing more than six games in any season. He elected to forgo his remaining eligibility in 2011 but left Tuscaloosa with a degree in financial planning and with two BCS title rings.

BURTON SCOTT (2008) -- Scott was a heralded athlete prospect near Mobile who began his Tide career as a receiver, catching two passes for 7 yards as a true freshman. He was moved to cornerback in 2009 and redshirted to learn the position, and he came out of the 2010 spring practice as one of the starters. Dee Milliner arrived that summer and, along with DeQuan Menzie, bumped Scott down the depth chart. Scott had six tackles in 2010 before transferring to South Alabama.

D.J. FLUKER (2009) -- Fluker was given the chance to replace Andre Smith at left tackle, but he was beaten out by James Carpenter and wound up redshirting. He eventually became the right tackle and started all 27 games for Alabama's 2011 and '12 national champions. Fluker was taken 11th overall by the San Diego Chargers in last April's NFL draft but made other news in September when he was named in a Yahoo report as having received payments before his collegiate eligibility expired from former Tide defensive lineman Luther Davis.

NICO JOHNSON (2009) -- Johnson compiled 162 career tackles in 51 games for the Tide, and he made 20 starts. More importantly, he made at least three starts on three Alabama teams that won national titles. Johnson had to make three starts at weakside linebacker as a true freshmen in 2009 once Dont'a Hightower was lost for the season, and he went on to become a fourth-round selection of the Kansas City Chiefs in last year's draft.

DRE KIRKPATRICK (2009) -- The tall and long cornerback from Gadsden had a combined 91 tackles, eight tackles for loss and three interceptions during the 2010 and 11 seasons before passing up his senior season for the 2012 draft. He was picked 17th overall by Cincinnati but has struggled with the Bengals, totaling 34 tackles and three interceptions in 19 games the past two seasons.

TRENT RICHARDSON (2009) -- Richardson was stout from the start for the Tide, racking up 751 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman, including 109 yards and two scores in the BCS title win over Texas. He teamed with Mark Ingram his first two seasons before taking the lead role in 2011, when he racked up a school-record 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns. Richardson was taken by Cleveland as the third overall pick in the 2012 draft and had 950 yards for the Browns as a rookie. He was traded to Indianapolis this past season but could not match his first-year productivity.

DEE MILLINER (2010) -- Milliner made 11 starts in 2010, when he was named a Freshman All-American, and he sealed the 2011 Iron Bowl victory at Auburn with a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown. He had 51 tackles, an SEC-leading 18 pass breakups and two interceptions as a junior in 2012 before declaring early for the NFL draft. He was the ninth overall selection last April, picked by the New York Jets.

HAHA CLINTON-DIX (2011) -- The safety from Orlando had just 11 tackles as a freshman but blossomed as a sophomore with 37 tackles and five interceptions. He snagged interceptions in each of Alabama's last three games that season, including the BCS title game. Clinton-Dix had 52 tackles and two interceptions this past season and is projected by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper to go 17th overall to the Dallas Cowboys in May.

DEE HART (2011) -- Hart suffered a torn ACL in the summer of 201 and suffered a second ACL tear five games into the 2012 season. He had compiled 21 carries for 88 yards in 2012 but had just 22 carries for 78 yards in 12 games this past season. Last Sunday, Hart was arrested in Tuscaloosa and charged with marijuana possession and providing false information. Alabama sent out a release stating that Hart has not been with the program since the Tide's Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma.

CYRUS KOUANDJIO (2011) -- Kouandjio provided plenty of signing day theatrics when the prized tackle from Maryland committed to Auburn on national television but signed with the Tide three days later. He was a reserve tackle in 2011, when his year was cut short by a knee injury, but was the starting left tackle the past two seasons. Kouandjio elected to forgo his senior season and is projected by Mel Kiper as the 20th overall selection, which would send him to the Arizona Cardinals.

LANDON COLLINS (2012) -- Collins also provided some flare during his recruiting process, committing to Alabama on national television against his mother's wishes for him to stay close to home at LSU. He had 17 tackles as a freshman and blocked a punt against Missouri, and his sophomore season included 70 tackles, four tackles for loss and two interceptions.

EDDIE WILLIAMS (2012) -- The athlete prospect started the 2012 preseason camp as a receiver but was moved to safety and wound up redshirting. Williams was arrested last February on two counts of second-degree robbery for his role in separate campus incidents. He was dismissed from the program and did not play anywhere last season, and it's currently unknown whether he will face prison time.

T.J. YELDON (2012) -- Yeldon was an Auburn commitment who switched to Alabama and produced immediately, rushing for 111 yards and a touchdown in his debut against Michigan. He became the first true freshman in Alabama history to rush for 1,000 yards, amassing 1,108 for the 2012 BCS champions, and he added 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns last season as a sophomore.

JONATHAN ALLEN (2013) -- The defensive end from Virginia got in 12 games last season, collecting 16 tackles, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble.

REUBEN FOSTER (2013) -- Alabama swiped Foster out of Auburn High School. The linebacker redshirted last season and helped influence another Auburn High linebacker, Rashaan Evans, to sign with the Tide this year.

O.J. HOWARD (2013) -- Howard played in all 13 games this past season, collecting 14 receptions for 269 yards and two touchdowns. His most dazzling play was a 52-yard scoring reception in the win over LSU.

A'SHAWN ROBINSON (2013) -- Robinson had a noticeable impact on Alabama's defensive front, compiling 38 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks this past season. He blocked a field-goal attempt against UTC.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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