Youngest of Crimson Tide players prove to be key contributors on SEC title team

Many four and five-star prospects never reach the level of stardom achieved in high school. Evaluating potential personnel is not an exact science but a rare skill few coaches masters. Nick Saban has recruited exceptionally well over the years during his tenure in Tuscaloosa. His organizational philosophy relies on strong competition at every position. The 2015 edition of the Crimson Tide benefited enormously from the signing day coups of the past.

Alabama (#2 12-1, 7-1) relied on first year talent to contribute to another Southeastern Conference Championship in the 29-15 victory over Florida (#18 10-3, 7-1) in the Georgia Dome.  Redshirt freshman cornerback Marlon Humphrey earned a starting position opposite all-star candidate Cyrus Jones.  He was tested early and often by opponents every game but progressed nicely over the course of the season to become a standout cover corner.  He recorded his third interception (28 total return yards) in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday.  Humphrey was credited with three solo tackles last night.  He has 40 total tackles for the season, eight assisted along with two-and-a-half for loss (-14).  The 6-1, 192 pound sure tackler has forced two fumbles and added five pass break ups and seven pass deflections.     

Ronnie Harrison is a valuable reserve as a safety in the Tide secondary.  The 6-3, 218 pound true freshman had one solo tackle against the Gators and 14 for the year with five assisted.  After 13 games, has racked up two interceptions (41 total return yards), one sack (-5 yards), one tackle for loss (-5 yards), four pass breakups, six pass deflections, one quarterback hurry, one forced fumble and one blocked kick.

The star position on the Alabama defense has been capably manned by another true freshman, Minkah Fitzpatrick.  He recorded one tackle against Florida and totals 41 for the year with 27 being solo.  Fitzpatrick has three tackles for loss (-18 yards) and two sacks (-17 yards).  He returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game, a school record (88 total return yards).  The 6-1, 195 pound defender has eight pass break ups, 10 pass deflections and one quarterback hurry.  He blocked and returned the same punt for a touchdown.  Fitzpatrick claimed three honors for his performance against Texas A&M – SEC Freshman of the Week, Walter Camp and FWAA Defensive Player of Week.

Alabama has dominated the defensive line of scrimmage.  True freshman Daron Payne is a major force in the rotation.  The 6-2, 315 pound defensive lineman has registered 13 tackles, six solo.  He has a half tackle for loss (-3 yards), half sack (-3 yards), one pass break up, one pass deflection, one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble on the season.  

Running back Damien Harris provides relief for Heisman candidate Derrick Henry.  The 5-11, 215 pound true freshman rushed for 155 yards on 45 carries and scored a touchdown.  He caught four passes for 13 yards, returned nine kick-offs for 174 yards and recorded two tackles as part of the special teams.

Calvin Ridley established a new freshman single season receiving record with 75 receptions after 13 games. Once again, the spectacular true freshman had a significant role in the Tide passing game catching eight passes for 102 receiving yards in yesterday’s contest.  He made a fantastic 55-yard reception leaping between two Gator defenders in the second quarter to give Bama the ball on the Florida three yard line.  Alabama scored two plays later to take a 12-7 lead at the half. The 6-1, 188 pound wide receiver caught five touchdown passes and has a team leading 893 yards.  He earned SEC Freshman Player of the Week honors for his efforts against Georgia (interview at top of story).

The coaching staff recognized Fitzpatrick (ULM, Texas A&M, Georgia and LSU), Humphrey (Auburn) and Ridley (Arkansas and Tennessee) for Player of the Week accolades. met with the six first year players following the win over Florida in the SEC Championship Game.

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