Alabama’s Amari Cooper, long projected as sure to leave after a junior season in which he set school and Southerastern Conference records and won the Belitnikoff Award as the nation’s best wide receiver, said his meeting with his head coach to discuss the situation “wasn’t that long. He just told me that the people he had talked to believed I would be a first round pick and that it would be a business decision for me to leave.
“But that didn’t mean I had to leave if I didn’t want to.”
Nice to know Nick Saban has a warm heart and would have made a place for Amari had he wanted to return.
Cooper was one of three Alabama juniors who, as expected, announced that they would forgo their senior seasons to enter the 2015 National Football League draft. Also leaving are All-America safety Landon Collins and All-SEC tailback T.J. Yeldon.
The deadline for a final decision for juniors is next Thursday, but it is not expected that others will elect to go. There had been some speculation about defensive lineman Jarran Reed and inside linebacker Reggie Ragland.
Alabama has had 18 players leave early under Saban, 12 of which were first-round draft picks. The 2015 NFL Draft will take place April 30-May 2 at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago.
Cooper, from Miami, Fla., set Alabama and SEC records with 124 receptions while finishing second in SEC history with 1,727 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. Collins, a native of New Orleans, led the team with 103 tackles and three interceptions in 2014 with 4 1/2 tackles for loss and seven pass breakups. Yeldon, from Daphne, finished his Crimson Tide career with 3,322 rushing yards (fourth in school history) and 37 rushing touchdowns (third at Alabama).
In an announcement ceremony Friday morning, Saban said, “Let me say how very proud I am of the three young men that are here with us today. I think that it speaks volumes to the program we have here to be able to recruit the character and quality guys that these guys are, have been and have represented The University of Alabama in a first-class way. I think it also speaks well of the program that we've been able to develop players like these guys to be as good a players as anybody in the country at their positions and at the same time do extremely well academically.
“Each one of these guys are within 30 credits or so, in some cases a lot less than that, -- less than a year -- of graduating.
“The fact that we've had 13 guys prior to last year and five last year that have gone out early and done well is something that I think is a real positive for our program.
“These guys have been a part of winning 36 games in the three years that they've been here, a national championship, and two SEC championships.”
He said as much as he was proud of their accomplishments as players, “we’re also very proud of how they put the team first and how they played well, helped their teammates play better, and they were great teammates to have on the team.
“And I think these qualities are going to be assets for them as they move on in their careers, because everybody wants to have guys on their team that are good teammates, and these guys have done a very, very good job of that. We are very supportive of what each and every one of these guys have decided to do.
“We make business decisions here for our student-athletes when it comes to their future. The program here is to help them develop personally, professionally and athletically so that they can have more success in the future. So when it comes to these decisions they have to make, we try to help them make business decisions.
“I think in each one of these cases, each one of these young men has made an excellent decision in what they want to do. Basically it's always been our philosophy if a guy's a very high first round or very near that, draft pick based on the information that we can give them” they should enter the draft.
“They have made a good business decision to decide what they want to do with the next year of their football career.
“I'm very proud of these guys in terms of what they've been able to accomplish here but more proud of the way they've represented themselves, their family, The University of Alabama. They've all done a phenomenal job, and we couldn't ask for better people to be some of the best players on our team.”