Richardson Puts Smile On Saban's Face
Alabama, which already had four players signed and enrolled for the spring semester, added 25 more on Wednesday, Signing Day. The last to ink his scholarship papers was Trent Richardson, the 5-11, 220-pound tailback from Escambia High School in Pensacola, Florida.
Bama Coach Nick Saban waited until after Richardson had made his choice known on national television late Wednesday afternoon before meeting reporters to discuss the day.
"I think I've seen just about every kind of Alabama hat there is, don't you think?" he said. "I liked that last one though. It was a pretty good one."
"I was elated, ecstatic, happy and really pleased," Saban said. "I think he was a real key to the class because he's an outstanding player at a position that a young player can contribute at next year. He may have the opportunity to do that because our circumstances have changed with Glen Coffee going off to the draft and Roy Upchurch getting injured this year, even though we are pleased with the progress that he (Roy) is making. A young player may have the opportunity to contribute and Trent certainly has the ability to do that. They (the Richardson family) are great people. In their minds there was never anything to worry about."
A modern phenomenon of football recruiting is that players who are recruited for as much as a year or more pretend they can't decide until the last possible moment which college they'll attend for the next few years. Could it be that the opportunity to be televised doing a hat trick affects that affliction?
Saban said he's not taken in by the ruse.
"I think even though, maybe publicly you don't know what guys are going to do, I probably had a pretty good idea when I went to bed last night," Saban said. " If there were 13 guys we were waiting on, I probably had a pretty good Idea of what most of the guys were going to do today. You usually get an indication of that. If you listen and read between the lines, and you kind of know what to do to be able to manage it. We were pleased. Sometimes you get surprised on one end then get a good surprise on the other end. That happened today as well."
Late Wednesday returns had Alabama ranked third in the nation after having been ranked first in the nation at this time last year. Predictably, Saban said he did not worry about ratings.
"The real significance of this class is what happens two or three years from now, in terms how they develop and how they contribute to the program and how many outstanding performers that we have in his class," Saban said. "That's the true evaluation of this class. It's great that they are recognized. It's great that our coaching staff could put such a good group together, but at the same time, their character and ability to develop as a group will ultimately determine the impact this class has on our football program, and our ability to win and win championships. That's what's most important to me."
Saban said, "It's the same analogy I use every year: the best puppy dogs don't always grow up to be the best hunting dogs and that is what has to happen from freshman, sophomore and junior years, in terms of players developing. It's so important. It takes a lot of maturity and it takes the right stuff for these guys to now go and get out of the limelight of what recruiting brings to them and go to work on what they need to do to be outstanding players at their particular position, to be a complete player at their position, in terms of what you need to do to be a college football player and a successful college football player. That's what we're here to support them to do. We want them to develop as people, so that they have a better chance to be successful in life. We also want them to develop a career off the field, in terms of graduating from school, which we have a fantastic track record of; and we want them to be the best football players they can be so that we have a chance to win a championship and they have a chance to develop to their full potential, so they have a chance to play at the next level. That's what is important and that is where the focus needs to be now. It goes away from recruiting and it goes toward development of what you have to be to be a complete student-athlete in all those areas."
One rumor making the rounds is that Alabama has at least one more possible signee, a defensive back. In his comments, Saban mentioned that the Crimson Tide recruiting class met many needs, but was short on defensive backs with only two—cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Rod Woodson.
One thing that impressed Saban was Alabama signees understanding the word "commitment." He said, "Every guy who was verbally committed to us, signed with us today. I think that says a lot about the character of the guys that we recruited and understanding what a commitment is and what a commitment means and we are very pleased and happy about that. We were able to attract a half-dozen other players that weren't committed to us today, that were outstanding national recruits. We could sit here and talk about the couple of guys that we had an opportunity to get that went some place else, but I'd much rather focus our positive energy on the guys that we got, because we got some very outstanding players. If you're in the thick of it at the end with a bunch of national recruits, you're going to get your share, and we felt like we got our share today."
Saban spread the credit. "Our coaching staff did a fantastic job of putting this class together," Saban said. "I don't think it just comes down. Today is a culmination of more than a year of work. It goes all the way back to the evaluation stages early on and developing the relationships, spending the time and energy to develop the relationships that you need to attract a quality player to come to your school."
Alabama's staff changed slightly in that time. Between the end of Alabama's 12-2 season and Signing Day, Bama lost two coaches (Kevin Steele to Clemson and Lance Thompson to Tennessee) and added two (Sal Sunseri and James Willis).
Saban said the changes were part of the reason "this recruiting class turned out extremely positive for us. I think our coaching staff did an outstanding job with the transition. I think the two new coaches hit the ground running in what they needed to do to compliment our coaching staff and our recruiting staff, and worked hard to do that. It is my theory and philosophy that when a coach comes from another school, we don't recruit players that they were recruiting at the other school. We didn't do that. Sal didn't have that problem, he was in pro ball. We are very pleased with the way these guys have adjusted in our program. I think they are going to be very positive additions. The transition of how our staff positively made the transition in recruiting didn't have a significant impact on the quality of our class."
Saban said, "We have a lot of people here that contribute to this in a positive way. This is one of the places that I enjoy most to recruit to because the attitude toward recruiting here and the positive energy that we have. The administration does a fantastic job. Dr. (University President Robert. E.) Witt talks to every recruit every recruiting weekend. He is one of the finest administrators ever, in terms of helping us recruit football players. (Director of Athletics) Mal Moore is there every Saturday, every weekend, to help us recruit. Our athletics administrative staff does a phenomenal job, organizationally in helping us recruit each and every weekend. We just feel blessed to have so many people who do such a good job.
"My wife Terry does an awfully good job of making our house available to the prospects when they come in and all the coaches wives contribute to it.
"I'm not sure everybody knows how much everybody puts into this when it comes to recruiting and it's not just one recruiting visit, its multiple visits and unofficial visits that all contribute to developing the relationships that you need to be able to attract quality guys and it takes a lot of time with our coaching staff, our administrative staff and our academic staff here. We do as fine a job academically as any place in the country when it comes to graduating our players. Our graduation rate is very high, but we also do a great job academically here of visiting with the prospects, relative to their major, even the deans of the schools all do a fantastic job. (Associate Athletic Director for Student Services) Jon Dever and his staff do a fantastic job of selling our academic support for our athletes.
"Our fans, the atmosphere and environment they create each Saturday that we play in Bryant-Denny Stadium is a real positive to be able to attract outstanding student-athletes. I mean 92,000 fans at the spring game (2007), 78,000 people at the spring game (2008). That kind of enthusiasm and passion is what our fans contribute to players wanting to be a part of such an outstanding program that is so important to so many people."
Even the current players on the team got credit.
Saban said, "I think our players, as a whole this year, did the best job of any team that I've ever been associated with of recruiting on the weekends. We have guys that are very good hosts. Our entire team contributes in a more positive way by giving attention and time to the guys that came in and visited and developed relationships with us. There was a lot of positive energy put in from our team's standpoint in trying to develop relationships with the players we were recruiting. I think it paid great dividends for us. I don't want to single out any guys. We never had one guy that hosted a player for us that we were disappointed in the job he did or the time that he spent. I thought our players did a fantastic job this year of giving guys the kind of attention that they needed to be able to show them what it would be like to be a player here at the University of Alabama."
Saban said, "One thing that I might also add about this — I think there are a dozen players from the state of Alabama and probably 16 or 17 from out-of-state — but the high school coaches, and other than my parents, probably the person that had the most significant impact on my life was my high school coach. I think that the job that these guys do in developing these players so we have an opportunity to recruit them, and we have a lot of great programs in this state and a lot of great coaches in this state and in the surrounding states that we recruit in. I would just like to comment on the fantastic job that those guys do in helping develop these guys to have an opportunity. I think it's very important what they do as coaches."
Getting to the recruiting class, Saban said, "We are certainly pleased with the quality of the class we were able to attract to The University of Alabama. Obviously, it's a great blend of great athletes, some size players, some guys that actually solve some needs for us in the future, relative to complementing the players that we have in the program right now, as well a fine character group of young men that we're pleased and happy to have join the quality of players that we have right now in terms of their character.
"In terms of needs, I thought it was really important that we get some big guys with long arms that could play on the edges of the offensive line. I think we were able to solve that. I also think there are skill players on offense who could make explosive plays and obviously getting a couple of runners like Trent Richardson, who is a great player, as well as some receivers and skill guys to go with that and to be able to attract one of the top quarterbacks in the country. I think all of those things will help us develop and sort of replace some the guys we lost on offense this year, which will be a real key to building our offense to what we need it to be in the future.
"Defensively, we got some good front seven players, some defensive linemen. We only got a couple of defensive backs, if there was one area where we would have liked to have taken another guy or two, that might have been it, but we are pleased with the guys that we were able to attract. I think the quality of linemen in this class, and I think there are 12 or 13 true linemen, big guys, is probably important to the future of the program. We have never had the numbers in the offensive line that we need to have since we've been here, in terms of depth and quality. So, that is something that we were able to do in this class."
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