Three Tide Juniors Opt For NFL Draft

Although Alabama's media briefing Friday had a little drama, and even though the results may not be final, thus far things have gone about as expected insofar as Crimson Tide football underclassmen declaring for the National Football League draft.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban held a press briefing Friday with four Crimson Tide players seated behind him. The purpose of the event was to announce those players elected to forego Bama eligibility for the opportunity to play professional football.

It was no surprise to see juniors Mark Ingram, Marcell Dareus, and Julio Jones enter the room with Saban. It was only slightly a surprise that Dont'a Hightower, who just completed his second year of eligibility, although he is eligible for the NFL since he has been out of high school three years, was with the group.

As it turned out, Hightower was the pleasant surprise. Saban had an awkward phrase or two in his presentation, which was made clear when Hightower revealed he intended to return for the 2011 season.

It is still possible that a player with eligibility remaining could elect to turn pro early. The one most mentioned is safety Mark Barron. There have also been rumors of wide receiver Marquis Maze electing to enter the draft. Neither was present at the press briefing, but Saban made mentioned of some players continuing to wrestle with the decision.

Ingram, a tailback, won the Heisman Trophy in leading Alabama to the 2009 national championship. Dareus, a defensive end, was defensive most valuable player in the BCS Championship Game victory over Texas. Jones has set several Alabama records for pass receiving.

Hightower, a linebacker who missed most of 2009 with a knee injury that required surgery, returned to the4 field in 2010, but did not appear to be fully back to his 2008 form, when he was a freshman starter for Bama. Hightower also confirmed that outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw will return for his final season.

In opening Friday's proceedings, Saban said, "I will speak for the Crimson Tide nation here when I say we all probably wish every player in our program would stay in school four years and graduate and develop a career off the field."

But, Saban said, that doesn't happen. And he pointed out that he supports players in making their "business decisions."

Saban said the players at Friday's briefing "have represented The University of Alabama, our football program, themselves and their family as well as any players I have ever coached. They have probably been a part of a successful three years of college football anywhere in the country in terms of what they've been able to achieve with their team as well as the individual success and accolades they have been able to earn including a Heisman Trophy for Mark and All-American honors for others. So we are extremely pleased and proud of everything all these young men have done in terms of their contribution to The University of Alabama, their contribution to the Alabama football program, the affect they've had on other people based on personal relationships they've developed and the leadership they've provided and the example that they've set.

"At no time have I been more pleased and proud of a group of young men in terms of their accomplishments, their achievements and the class that they've had in terms of how they've represented this institution. And in every case here, each of these young men have gone through the process of what we wanted them to go through to make a good choice and decision about what their future should be. Every guy was very diligent. Every family did their due diligence. And they were absolutely perfect in their behavior relative to trying to come and gather the information they need to come to this kind of decision they need to make that is best for their future. And I am fully endorsing each and every one of these guys in terms of the decision they made. It's a benefit to our program to have guys at this level of success that are happy, this level of success that need to make these kinds of decisions about their future especially when they're underclassmen. It speaks volumes of the development programs that we have for them here personally, academically, as well as the job that our coaching staff, our strength and conditioning staff, our medical staff do in helping their development. We're pleased and proud of their development, what they've done. And they will always be a part of The University of Alabama football tradition as well as the future of the program based on the way they represented and the contribution that they've made."

Saban also said some players continue "trying to make decisions."

He said the players leaving early had pledged "to do everything they can to finish their education." He pointed out that even if they are fortunate enough to play football until age 30, "they'll still have 50 more years to live, and hopefully that education will be something that will enhance the quality of their lives after football."

Saban said the players had made good decisions. He added, "The University of Alabama has benefited tremendously and we appreciate their efforts and what they've done and are very happy and pleased that they have the opportunities that they have."

Asked about the players who are departing, Saban said, "All three are great competitors. I think when you're a coach, you always admire guys that are great competitors. I talk about this quite a bit. Each one of these guys has worked hard here to be the best that they can be. I think that's a tremendously special quality that sometimes people take for granted. Because it's not the human condition to be great, it's not the human condition to be the best you can be. Each one of these guys have all done that."

The players leaving early are part of the 2008 signing class, which Saban called "a great class. There was a lot of opportunity for all these guys early in their careers. These guys took advantage of it, made a significant impact on the program immediately and, based on accomplishment, this class probably had as much to do with what's been accomplished the last three years as any class. I would say that, based on their performance and the results, it has to be as good as any."

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