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Alabama’s 2008 Recruiting Class – The Best Recruiting Class Ever?

February 5, 2013

Best Recruiting Class Ever

There are many factors that contribute to the success of a college football team.  Coaching, player development, strategy, and fan support, for example, all play important roles, but a team short on pure talent will prove limited on the field.

I attended grad school with Dabo Swinney in the mid 90’s when he was a Grad Assistant under Stallings and the significance of talent on the field was one of the earliest lessons he learned as he transited from playing to coaching.  As a player you believe both in yourself and the plans your coaches outline for the game.  However, as a coach you factor in the strengths and weaknesses of your team relative to those of your opponent when developing those plans.  Based on the talent comparsion, the game plan is either to exploit a talent gap in your favor or hid the gaps in favor of the opposition.  It doesn’t take long to figure which is easier and more fun, not to mention more successful over the long term.

That’s why the recruiting game in college football is so important and it is often a leading factor attributed to coach Saban’s success at Alabama.

Recruiting is a year round activity so when Saban joined Alabama in December 2006 he was limited in only having a matter of weeks to put his stamp on the 2007 class.  This class finished with a #10 ranking per Rivals which compared favorably to previous Alabama classes (11th in 200618 in 2005, and 24th in 2004), but only hinted at things to come.

Saban’s first full recruiting class at Alabama in 2008 was a sight to behold on national signing day.  In route to securing a national #1 ranking (Rivals), it pulled in three 5 Stars (tied for the second highest total nationally), Top Players from 9 states (expanded recruiting base), and shattered the blockade Auburn and LSU had established around Mobile as the Crimson Tide landed 8 players from this fertile region (access to new talent pools).

But recruiting classes are like wedding days and NFL drafts in that true success can only be measured over time and not simply in the moment.  So while the first February Wednesday in 2008 provided a fine moment, no one could forecast the shadow this moment would cast over college football for the next half decade.  No right minded fan would have projected Alabama’s 2008 recruiting class amongst the greatest recruiting classes of all time.

GOAT status is not something to be tossed around lightly, and admittedly I come to the topic with some bias, so consider the following facts:

60 Wins

23 All SEC Team members, 13 1st Teamers

13 All America Team members, 7 1st Teamers

8 NFL Draft Picks, 6 1st Rounders (not counting the 2013 draft with 5 targets)

4 NFL Drafts impacted, including the yet to be held 2013 draft

3 SEC Championship Appearances with 2 SEC Championships

3 BCS National Champsionships (in 3 appearances)

1 Heisman Trophy Winner (Alabama’s 1st winner)

1 Outland Trophy Winner

1 Rimington Trophy Winner

1 William V. Campbell Trophy Winner (Alabama’s 1st winner)

Impressive measurables to be sure, but for all the stars and headliners this class is littered with the leaders, contributors, and role players necessary in order for a team to capitalize on its full potential.  Further, as will be the case, this class included those who either never showed up or panned out, proving that even at its best, college recruiting is never an exact science.

So is Alabama’s 2008 recruiting class the best ever?  Perhaps, but don’t be surprised if Nebraska, Miami, and USC each have their own go-to favorites.  Moreover, don’t be surprised if this mid-dynasty era of Alabama football produces another class to rival that of 2008.

In the meantime, let’s remember and enjoy this class and what it represents.

 

Mark Barron – S – Mobile, AL

  • 2008 – 2011
  • 52 Game Appearances
  • 46 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
    • 2011 National Championship
  • Awards:
    • 2009 All SEC 1st Team
    • 2009 3rd Team All-America (AP)
    • 2010 All SEC 1st Team
    • 2010 1st Team All-America (FWAA, AP)
    • 2011 All SEC 1st Team

NFL – 1st Round, 7th Overall Pick – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 2012

AFP Comments: 
Mark Barron should go down as one of the finest DBs to ever play at Alabama.  His contributions to the Tide were instrumental in winning 2 National Titles and his personal awards support that claim.  The irony behind the full scope of Mark’s success may lie in an injury he suffered in the 2010 Iron Bowl.  A shoulder injury influenced his decision to forego the 2011 draft and remain at Alabama where he contributed to winning the 2011 National Title.  Mark is a true favorite of the Podcast Team.

Mark was also one of a handful of 2008 recruits from Mobile.  Prior to 2008 Mobile was largely considered fertile recruiting ground for auburn and even LSU.  By making the decision to Roll with the Tide, Mark (and others) re-opened a talent pipeline that continues to benefit the Tide.

 

Undra Billingsley – DL/TE – Birmingham, AL

  • 2008 – 2011
  • 27 Game Appearances
  • 47 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
    • 2011 National Championship

AFP Comments: 
Undra was a talented player who never seemed to find his complete stride at the Capstone.  Undra provided quality depth along the DL and later in his career he served as a blocking TE.

 

DeVonta Bolton – ATH – Norcross, GA
Unable to qualify academically and went to JUCO.  Bolton never returned to D 1 football.

 

John Michael Boswell – OL – Northport, AL

  • 2008 – 2011
  • 36 Game Appearances
  • 47 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
    • 2011 National Championship
  • Awards:
    • 2009 Freshman All SEC Honors

AFP Comments: 
Boswell is a fine example of a player who carved out a successful role within the program, however, a role that was not that of a starter.  Boswell earned playing time in 2009 and was recognized as an All-Conference Freshman.  From there is severed as a much needed backup along the OL which allowed him to see playing time in many ball games.  While many fans may not appreciate players like Boswell, the podcast team understands that Boswell served a critical role in the success of any high performing team.

 

Terrence Cody – DL – Fort Myers, FL

  • 2008 – 2009
  • 26 Game Appearances
  • 26 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
  • Awards:
    • 2008 All SEC 1st Team
    • 2008 All America 1st Team
    • 2009 All SEC 1st Team

NFL – 2nd Round Pick – Baltimore Ravens – 2010

AFP Comments:
Mount Cody was a Day 1 force for the Crimson Tide.  He was over 400lbs as an initial recruit and while his waistline shrank, his legend continued to grow.  Early in his playing days he redefined the role of Nose Guard and his dominance of smaller Centers became comical in its devastation.  Just ask Ben Jones, UGA’s freshman (and future all conference) Center in the 2008 Blackout game.  His contributions to the 2008 Championship run were further exalted as he blocked 2 kicks to preserve the late win against Tennessee.  Frequently Tom and I will reference Cody as a pocket collapsing force even though Terrance last played for the Tide 3 years ago.  Such was his impact.  One we had not seen before and certain not since.  He certainly left huge shoes to fill in the middle of our defense for years to come.

 

Marcel Dareus – DL – Birmingham, AL

  • 2008 – 2010
  • 33 Game Appearances
  • 36 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
  • Awards:
    • 2010 MVP BCS Championship Game
    • 2010 All SEC 1st Team

NFL – 1st Round, 3rd Overall Pick – Buffalo Bills – 2011

AFP Comments: 
Marcel exemplifies the Saban recruiting system.  Dareus was a lightly regarded 3 star player from Birmingham who had a few offers but was widely consider a depth and role player.  However, the Saban system, which establishes measurable for each position, was able to see an almost latent value in a player like Marcel.  Consider it a Money Ball like evaluation process.  Within the Saban system, Marcel became a wrecking ball on the edge, or wherever our alignment placed him.  In the 2009 National Championship game Marcel intercepted a shuffle pass, demonstrated a nifty spin move, and returned the pick for a touchdown, thus cementing his status as a high round draft pick.  My favorite part was the interview with a still stunned Mack Brown who claimed that he “had never seen a shuffle pass intercepted before”.  The podcast team has commented as to our belief that his performance tailed off in 2010 but he was still a player offenses had to recognize and account for on each snap.

 

Robby Green – CB – River Ridge, LA

  • 2008 – 2010
  • 25 Game Appearances
  • 36 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship

AFP Comments: 
Robby was an interesting recruiting story and his Alabama career was as compelling as it has been overlooked.  When Saban arrived and started putting together his first class under an abbreviated schedule, he invested significant time at John Curtis HS in Louisiana.  At the time he was selling to the #1 ranked prospect Joe McKnight who ended up at USC.  The following year when Saban returned to John Curtis HS and successfully pulled Green, insights into his recruiting machine started to surface.  In his own right, Green was a quality player.  He quickly became a staple of the special teams in 2008 and in 2009 he took over the FS spot vacated by the departure of Rashad Johnson.  Green, though undersized, had all the markings of a future star.  Unfortunately, as fast as Robby’s star rose, so too did it fall.  The story is that Robby failed a drug test – steroids were alleged – and he was suspended for the 2010 season – a season in which is skills were sorely missed.  The story further unraveled and Robby eventually transferred.  For listeners who have heard (or read here and here) us discuss the DB alignments and position in detail, it is clear to see how beneficial it would have been to have Robby and his versatility available in 2010 or to at least have him return for 2011 and potentially 2012.  Alas, that was not the case and Robby will fade into perhaps one of the more interesting footnotes of this era.

 

Glenn Harbin – DL – Mobile, AL

  • 2008 – 2010
  • 1 Game Appearance
  • 36 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship

AFP Comments:
Glenn never found his stride in Saban’s defense and left the team in 2010 to pursue baseball.

 

Jerrell Harris – LB – Gadsden, AL

  • 2008 – 2011
  • 38 Game Appearances
  • 47 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
    • 2011 National Championship

NFL – Signed FA Contract, current Practice Squad player

AFP Comments: 
Jerrell was a heralded member of the 2008 class and a clear fan favorite even when his performance did not match the outsized expectations.  Over his career, Jerrell was a frequent topic on the podcast.  Blessed with superior athleticism, Jerrell was considered a prototype for Saban’s Jack linebacker and many considered him an instant starter and substantial upgrade over Cory Reamer.  On paper those were valid thoughts, but Jerrell never delivered on those promises.  On the podcast we openly expected Jerrell to transfer prior to his senior year, however, he hung around and earned a starting role in our base (3-4-4) alignment.  Jerrell is an example of how hard it can be to make the shift from high school to college, and in particular to a college defense as complicated and diverse as that run by Saban.  Harris is also a fine example of a player hanging around to earn a material role on a 2 time national championship team.  Clearly the pros believe his best ball is ahead of him as he continues to earn time and income on NFL practice rosters.  If Jerrell lands in the right spot, those expectations may still be met.

 

Dont’a Hightower – LB – Lewisburg, TN

  • 2008 – 2011
  • 44 Game Appearances
  • 47 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
    • 2011 National Championship
  • Awards:
    • 2008 1st Team Freshman All America (FWAA)
    • 2008 Freshman All SEC (Coaches)
    • 2010 All SEC 2nd Team
    • 2011 All SEC 1st Team
    • 2011 1st Team All-America (AFCA, AP)

NFL – 1st Round Pick – New England Patriots – 2012

AFP Comments: 
Hightower was a highly regarded 4 star Saban plucked from the Volunteer’s back yard and during his career Dont’a lived up to and even exceeded his top billing.  Hightower immediately brought a dangerous combination of size and speed to the LB corps and his role and playing time continued to grow.  His formative years were before we started the podcast, but I have to think that we would have branded him an emerging star in the way we later branded CJ Mosley and Denzel Duval.  Unfortunately Hightower injured his knee against Arkansas in 2009 and was forced to watch from the sidelines as the Tide made its Championship run.  Hightower returned to the field in 2010 and returned to form in 2011 where is was a force in winning another BCS National Championship.

 

Destin Hood – WR – Mobile, AL
Never reported to Alabama, electing to sign baseball contract with the Washington Nationals

 

Mark Ingram – RB – Flint, MI

  • 2008 – 2010
  • 39 Game Appearances
  • 36 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
  • Awards:
    • 2008 Freshman All SEC
    • 2008 Set Alabama Freshman Rushing Record
    • 2009 Heisman Trophy (Alabama’s first Heisman Winner)
    • 2009 All SEC 1st Team
    • 2009 SEC Champions Offensive Player of the Year
    • 2009 1st Team All-America (AFCA, FWAA, AP, Sporting News)
    • 2009 Sporting News National Player of the Year
    • 2009 Set Alabama Season Rushing Record
    • 2010 All SEC 2nd Team
    • Set Alabama Career Rushing TD Record (42)

NFL – 1st Round Pick – New Orleans Saints – 2011

AFP Comments: 
Mark Ingram, thy name is legend.  In 2008 Mark burst onto the scene in the GA Dome against Clemson in a Kick-off Classic game.  This game announced that Saban had assembled a precocious group of youngsters with Mark firmly in the mix.  Repeatedly running for 1st downs and touchdowns Mark was always efficient and effective.  To the older set, Ingram was Johnny Musso and to the younger crowd he was Emmitt Smith.  With Mark, a measuring stick for his greatness was required.  During the electric 2009 season, one of Mark’s signature moments came during the South Carolina game when he lined up as the wildcat QB and repeatedly gashed the Cocky defense en route to a game clinching TD.  Later that fall, Mark forever etched his name in Crimson Flame by winning the programs first ever Heisman Trophy.  Mark’s humble demeanor and performance on the field will forever make him a fan favorite.

There is one little story about Mark I enjoy.  Following signing day, Alabama hired Jim McElwain to replace the departed offensive coordinator Major Applewhite.  When being briefed on the recruiting class he was told we picked up a well-regarded running back from Michigan.  In near disbelief Mac stated as much as asked, “not Mark Ingram?”  It seemed that Mark’s reputation was preceding him even before arriving on campus.

 

Chris Jackson – WR – McDonough, GA

  • 2008
  • 12 Game Appearances
  • 12 Career Wins

AFP Comments: 
Joined the team in 2008 and immediately became a regular on the special team units.  In 2009 left Alabama and transferred to Georgia Tech.

 

Star Jackson – QB – Lake Worth, FL

  • 2008 – 2009
  • 5 Game Appearances
  • 26 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship

AFP Comments: 
Star was ranked nationally as the #5 QB coming out of High School (Rivals) and his selection of Alabama was thought by many observers to be signal.  Other top recruits took notice that the Alabama program was on the rise and landing a top QB served as confirmation.   While a proven leader during the recruiting process, Star was unable to translate that same leadership and skill on the field.  After a red shirt year in 2008, Star saw action in relief duty in 2009 but was passed on the depth chart by true freshman and eventual starter AJ McCarron.  Following the 2009 season, Star transferred to Georgia State.

 

Barrett Jones – OL – Memphis, TN

  • 2008 – 2012
  • 53 Game Appearances
  • 60 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
    • 2011 National Championship
    • 2012 SEC Champions
    • 2012 National Championship
  • Awards:
    • 2009 Freshman All-SEC 1st Team
    • 2009 Freshman All-America 1st Team
    • 2010 All SEC 1st Team (@ Right Guard)
    • 2010 3rd Team All-America
    • 2011 All SEC 1st Team (@ Left Tackle)
    • 2011 1st Team All-America (AFCA, AP, FWAA)
    • 2011 Outland Trophy (@ Left Tackle)
    • 2012 All SEC 1st Team (@ Center)
    • 2012 1st Team All-America
    • 2012 Rimington Award Winner
    • 2012 William V. Campbell Trophy (First Ever Alabama Winner)

NFL – Projected 1st/2nd Round Pick in the April 2013 NFL Draft

AFP Comments: 
Barrett Jones may go down as one of the most talented and versatile offensive linemen in college football.  While at Alabama, Jones has taken snaps at all 5 offensive positions and once played 3 different OL positions within a single game.  But Jones not only played many positions, he mastered them.  In 2010 he was the Tide starter at RG and proceeded to earn All SEC 1st team honors.  In 2011 he started at Left Tackle – perhaps the most valued position across the front – and proceeded to earn All SEC and All America 1st team honors while also winning the Outland Trophy which is awarded annually to the nation’s top lineman.  2012 was no exception as Barrett moved to Center and again earned All SEC and All America 1st team honors and also won the Rimington Trophy which is awarded annually to the nation’s top Center – an exclusive back to back.

However, Barrett’s legacy extends well beyond the field.  He graduated early with honors and played his senior year while pursuing a graduate degree.  He has taken annual mission trips to Haiti in the summer.  He has participated in numerous community events related to the 2011 tornado and other similar events.  Barrett Jones has the class and character to accomplish great things in his lifetime.  As both Alabama alumni and fans, the Podcast Team is proud to count Barrett as part of our lore.

 

Julio Jones – WR – Foley, AL

  • 2008 – 2010
  • 40 Game Appearances
  • 36 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
  • Awards:
    • 2008 SEC Freshman of the Year
    • 2008 All SEC 2nd Team
    • 2008 Freshman All America
    • 2009 All SEC 2nd Team
    • 2010 All SEC 1st Team

NFL – 1st Round, 6th Overall Pick – Atlanta Falcons – 2011

AFP Comments: 
Julio Jones was a star and household name before ever playing a live game for the Crimson Tide.  When the #4 overall national recruit (Rivals) arrived on campus he received write-in votes for Student Body President.  When footage of his catching a long TD pass in a scrimmage was “leaked”, the fan base went nuts and conference opponents took notice.  And Julio rarely failed to deliver.  Often playing injured or dinged, Julio was always the primary target, and for quarterbacks John Parker Wilson and Greg McElroy, Julio was open even when he was double and triple teams.  Julio was a star’s star.  He earned top shelf billing and performed to that standard.

 

Chris Jordan – LB – Brentwood, TN

  • 2008 – 2011
  • 38 Game Appearances
  • 47 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
    • 2011 National Championship

AFP Comments:
Jordon started his career as a running back but was quickly moved to linebacker where his size and athleticism fit well with Coach Saban’s brand of defense.   Chris was a steady contributor and worked his way up the depth chart.  However, his career arch was muted as the result of chronic shoulder injuries.

 

Alonzo Lawrence – CB – Lucedale, MS

  • 2008
  • 0 Game Appearances
  • 12 Career Wins

AFP Comments: 
Alonzo was a heralded cornerback recruit and made a name for himself in defending fellow recruit Julio Jones in the Alabama-Mississippi All Star Game.  Many believed Alonzo would immediately earn playing time, if not a starting role, alongside Javy Arenas and Kareem Jackson.  This turned out not to be the case as Alonzo was red-shirted and saw no playing time.  From the outside, this was excused or explained as a function of Saban’s complicated defensive schemes – a reality that continues to limit the ability of some youngsters (and veterans) to find the field.  Internally, the story seemed to tell another tale and Alonzo left the program prior to the 2009 season transferring to Southern Miss where he lasted less than a season before finally landing at Gulf Coast Community College.  In the spring of 2012 Alonzo signed a deal with the Detroit Lions but was released over the summer.  In the fall of 2012 Alonzo signed a one year deal with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.

 

Robert Lester – S – Foley, AL

  • 2008 – 2012
  • 48 Game Appearances
  • 60 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
    • 2011 National Championship
    • 2012 SEC Champions
    • 2012 National Championship
  • Awards:
    • 2010 All SEC 2nd Team
    • 2010 2nd Team All-America (Walter Camp)
    • 2010 Tied Alabama Single Season Interception Record (8)
    • 2011 All-America Honorable Mention (SI)
    • 2012 All SEC 2nd Team

NFL – Projected Early Round Pick in the April 2013 NFL Draft

AFP Comments:
Robert developed into a favorite amongst the AFP team over his career.  Red-shirted his freshman season and seeing mostly spot duty during his red-shirt season, some speculated that Robert was awarded a scholarship only to help convince his high school teammate Julio Jones to roll with the Tide.  However, Lester promptly silenced his critics in his 3rd season as he earned a starting job opposite safety and fellow 2008 recruiting classmate Mark Barron.  As a starter, Robert recorded eight interceptions which led the SEC and ranked second nationally.  Lester remained a fixture in the Tide secondary for 3 seasons and his steady play will be sorely missed.

 

Brandon Lewis – DL – Pleasant Grove, AL

  • 2010 – 2011
  • 8 Game Appearances
  • 21 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2011 National Championship

AFP Comments: 
Brandon began his collegiate career in Junior College but later re-signed with Alabama.  During his time at the Capstone, Brandon was a reserve player along the Defensive Line and later moved to Tight End where he was thought to possess the tools to become a valued blocker in short yardage situations.  However, shortly after the move was made, Brandon elected to end his collegiate career and left the team following the 2011 season.

 

Tyler Love – OL – Mountain Brook, AL

  • 2008 – 2011
  • 12 Game Appearances
  • 47 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
    • 2011 National Championship

AFP Comments: 
Tyler Love was a heralded 5-Star recruit out of Birmingham who was penciled in by some fans as a 4 year starter only if he didn’t leave for the NFL after 3.  The funny thing about high expectations is that they rarely come true, and such is the story of Tyler Love.  Tyler red-shirted is first year, a course not uncommon for offensive linemen who can often benefit by a year in a college weight room.  However, Tyler only managed to earn spot time and reserve work during his tenure with the Tide and he elected to depart the team following the 2011 season after having earned his degree.

 

Ivan Matchett – RB – Mobile, AL

  • 2008
  • 0 Game Appearances
  • 12 Career Wins

Injuries ended his playing career and he accepted a Medical Scholarship in 2009.

 

Kerry Murphy – DL – Hoover, AL

  • 2008 – 2010
  • 18 Game Appearances
  • 36 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship

AFP Comments:
By absolutely no fault of his own, Kerry Murphy’s career is something of a cautionary tale for highly ranked recruits.   Academics forced Kerry to begin his career at prep school and upon his arrival in the fall of 2009, Kerry was able to work into the rotation and at times demonstrated the athleticism that contributed to his being a highly valued recruit.  However prior to the 2010 season tragedy struck as Kerry’s brother was killed in Birmingham early during fall camp.  Kerry rejoined the team prior to the first game, but the time away from camp coupled with the personal loss was evident in his play.  Eventually chronic knee injuries worsen and Kerry’s career was over following the 2010 season, before it really had a chance to blossom.

 

Wesley Neighbors – S – Huntsville, AL

  • 2008 – 2010
  • 11 Game Appearances
  • 36 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship

AFP Comments: 
Wes redshirted is first season and provided depth in reserve his second season.  During the 2010 campaign Wes earned a recurring role on special teams and was able to see some spot action as well.  Following the 2010 season Wes left the team due to recurring injuries, taking a Medical hardship allowing him to complete his studies.

 

Jermaine Preyear – RB – Mobile, AL

  • 2008

Dismissed from team in 2009 and transferred to Alabama State

Melvin Ray – WR – Tallahassee, FL
Melvin never reported to Alabama, electing to sign baseball contract with the LA Dodgers.

 

BJ Scott – WR/DB – Pritchard, AL

  • 2008 – 2010
  • 15 Game Appearances
  • 36 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship

NFL – BJ participated in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl All Star game, was a late add to the Senior Bowl, and is a hopeful late round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft

AFP Comments: 
Similar to Mark Barron, Scott played a key role in helping to open Mobile to Alabama as a recruiting hotspot.  Unfortunately, Scott was unable to develop a career equal to that of his fellow Mobile-ian.  BJ began his Alabama career as a receiver in 2008 but moved to defense prior to the 2009 campaign, during which BJ redshirted.  Prior to the 2010 season, Scott battled for one of 3 DB spots vacated by departing players (CB – Javy Arenas, CB – Kareem Jackson, FS – Justin Woodall), but a starting role was not in the cards.  Scott managed to see spot duty during the season but never managed to break through despite his impressive physical ability.  Following the 2010 season, BJ elected to transfer to South Alabama where he earned an Honorable Mention spot on the All-Sun Belt Conference team in 2012.

 

Brad Smelley – TE – Tuscaloosa, AL

  • 2008 – 2011
  • 46 Game Appearances
  • 47 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
    • 2011 National Championship

NFL – 7th Round Pick – Cleveland Browns – 2012

AFP Comments: 
Brad Smelley continued a trend of late career emerging Tight Ends while at Alabama.  Following in the footsteps of “where did he come from” players like Colin Peek and Preston Dial.  Brad actually earned playing time early in his career on special teams where he continued to shine throughout his career, however, it was his emergence as a halfback and tight end that led to his most valued contributions late during a 2011 championship run.

 

Corey Smith – K/P – Inwood, WV

  • 2008
  • 3 Game Appearances
  • 12 Career Wins

Transferred to West Virginia in 2009.

 

Damion Square – DL – Houston, TX

  • 2008 – 2012
  • 42 Game Appearances
  • 60 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
    • 2011 National Championship
    • 2012 SEC Champions
    • 2012 National Championship

NFL – Projected Pick in the April 2013 NFL Draft

AFP Comments:
Saban’s ability to pluck Square out of Houston was another early demonstration of his recruiting prowess, a demonstration that was rewarded often by the steady play of Square.  Unfortunately, Damion’s career got off to a slow start.  After being redshirted in 2008, Damion suffered a knee injury against Florida International in the second game of the 2009 which cost him the rest of the season.  But Square’s career took a positive turn from there as he recovered in time to participate fully in 2010 and he never missed another game during the rest of his playing days at Alabama.  While Square was never quite a star, he was a steady contributor and team leader who personified the type of ‘squad guys’ all championship teams require,

 

Courtney Upshaw – LB – Eufaula, AL

  • 2008 – 2011
  • 53 Game Appearances
  • 47 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
    • 2011 National Champion
  • Awards:
    • 2011 All SEC 1st Team
    • 2011 All America (FWAA)

NFL – 2nd Round Pick – Baltimore Ravens – 2012

AFP Comments: 
Upshaw was perhaps a more glamorous version of Damien Square.  Both were recruited as LB/DE ‘tweeners and both exhibited the leadership characteristics necessary for success.  While Square became a DL, Upshaw’s athleticism (and no knee injury) allowed him to play Jack Linebacker which often saw him lined up with a hand on the ground opposite Square.  During 2010, Upshaw’s true breakout season, he suffered a high ankle sprain early in the year against Florida.  While this injury hampered him all season, it was easy to see the days or portions of games during which the injury was subsiding and against Michigan State in the Capital One bowl, Courtney demonstrated the full scope of his ability when able to play with two healthy wheels.  Courtney continued to display this ability throughout a Championship campaign in 2011 and parlayed that into an early round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

 

Michael Williams – TE – Reform, AL

  • 2008 – 2012
  • 55 Game Appearances
  • 60 Career Wins
  • Championships:
    • 2009 SEC Champions
    • 2009 National Championship
    • 2011 National Championship
    • 2012 SEC Champions
    • 2012 National Championship

NFL – Projected Pick in the April 2013 NFL Draft

AFP Comments:
Michael Williams is a player that not all Alabama fans could name, but is one who will certainly be missed when he departs for the NFL.  Williams is a fantastic blend of size and speed and hands which makes him a perfect tight end.  Measuring 6-6 and (over)270, Michael was a 6th lineman capable of opening holes for our running game.  But left alone, Williams could slip behind the coverage and find a soft spot in the defense.  The quintessential example was the 2013 Championship Game on the goal line in the first quarter when he appeared to be reach blocking but kept running to the back of the end zone where he was wide open for the pass that made it a 14-0 Alabama lead.

 *note, there are tons of entities that release All America lists and I stopped trying to qualify each and every selection.  Every player inventoried above was recognized by at least one of the leading national services.  If there’s an error it is most certainly one of omission.

 

By any measure, this was a fun bunch of players to watch develop and contribute.  This class literally put Saban’s brand on the Alabama team and set a high bar for all subsequent classes.  It’ll be fun measuring future classes against this standard.  Here’s to future classes competing well!

 

I’ll wrap up with an AFP postscript.

Tom and I have been talking Alabama Football since our days at the Capstone and here are a couple related points we’ve discussed over the years – pre podcast – that support our belief that Alabama and Saban are a perfect match.

The Tide is a buoyant program, with our greatest single need being that of a coach capable of demonstrating leadership across the program.  I illustrate this point with the relative success of 5 different coaches; Bill Curry, Mike Dubose, Dennis Franchione, and Mike Shula.  While this group is not at risk of landing on an all-time coaching Mt. Rushmore,  each coach delivered a 10 win season – most occurring before the NCAA allowed a 12th regular season game and Curry even before the SEC Championship game was introduced.  For context, Vanderbilt posted a 9 win campaign in 2012 which represents its highest win total since 1915.  You might be surprised at the list of teams with less than four 10 win seasons in their history and Alabama has that many in what would otherwise be considered some of our darkest eras.

In contrast when a strong and unquestioned leader like Gene Stallings is at the helm, a National Title seems inevitable.

Saban clearly demonstrates this leadership and the results speak (loudly) for themself.

Another point Tom and I have discussed is the Tide’s ability to dominate the conference as it did in years past.  What we’re experiencing today is probably more than we would have expected, but we did think Alabama could replicate the reign of then champion USC.

Our case was simple, due to NCAA Sanctions we were missing out on top recruits – recruits that all expressed interest in Alabama but who each pulled the trigger to attend a rival program due to our sanctions.

Had players like Jason Allen (Muscle Shoals) – Tennessee; Chad Jackson (Hoover) – Florida; Jayson Swain (Huntsville) – Tennessee;  JaMarcus Russell (Mobile) – LSU; Aaron Sears (Russellville) – Tennessee;  Gabe McKenzie (Mobile) – auburn; Markus Manson (Hillcrest) – Florida;  Max Martin (Madison) – Michigan; Wes Brown (Athens) – Tennessee; selected Alabama in the mid 2000’s the Tide would have experienced much greater success.

The point is not that each of these specific players would have come to Alabama and become stars but rather we would have secured a number of players that sprinkled themselves across several schools that did experience success during that time.  The point is that good recruiting breeds good recruiting as top players often want to play with one another and we missed on a handful of players that could have had both direct and indirect impacts.

The point is, well to call it like I see it, Saban has proved us right.  Our sights were on the 2002 – 2005 classes at the time while Saban has cleaned up the 2008 – 2012 class with the 2013 class about to become official.

Without question, strong leadership and high caliber recruiting will turn around any program, however, some programs have a taste for true north and once moving in the right direction have an inertia that works with success rather than against it.

Alabama is such a program and Coach Saban is the right coach to both exploit and refine those qualities.

 

Other articles discussing Alabama’s 2008 Recruiting Class:

Loaded 2008 Class Fuels Alabama’s Rise

2008 Class Set Standard at Alabama

2008 Class Fueled Alabama’s Rise

Rivals 2008 Recruiting Class page

Revisitig the 2008 Class

Alabama’s Best Recruiting Classes

Re-Ranking the 2008 Class

Saban’s Top 10 Recruits

Subscribe and Review the Alabama Football Podcast on iTunes

Category: Alabama Football, Recruiting, Roster, Written Articles