It seems like every year, the impetus for recruiting is to always get the best players available. While fans and analysts tend to laud the coaches for a job well done, and scold those who come up short, the real secret in being a great coach is to have the players to field a competitive roster week in and week out.
For Alabama coach Nick Saban, there has never been a more focused individual who understands the importance of ensuring his roster is filled with the best players in the country. Since 2008, he has secured by all respected recruiting sites no less than a top 5 recruiting class with at least three being ranked number one. However, while securing top-level talent is great, it is imperative the state’s best players continue to ink with the Tide on signing day.
Take for instance the 2016 class. As things stand, the state of Alabama currently has at least three players considered to be elite prospects. DE Marlon Davidson, DE Ben Davis, and LB Lyndell Wilson are all blue chip recruits who reside in Alabama and each are on the Tide’s radar. This is no surprise as Saban is always seeking the best players for his team. The issue is what happens to the players who may not be considered elite by respected recruiting services, but have proven themselves to be considered the best in the state. The thought that players are more superior outside of the state does not always hold true. We have seen in recent years where elite out-of-state players have not measured up for reasons most notably due to behavior.
It seems ever since that epic 2008 signing class in which 18 players from the state of Alabama signed a scholarship to play for the Tide, the numbers have dwindled since and perhaps the lack of on and off-field success could be the issue. Alabama is a unique program in the fact they have only one true in-state rival threat and by an overwhelming majority are still the more popular collegiate program. With that said, many players dream of playing for the Tide and to have the chance to represent their home state means more to them than a recruit coming from Georgia, Florida, California, and other parts of the country.
Don’t get me wrong, it would be ridiculous to suggest Alabama not recruit the best players available and broaden their search outside of Alabama and the Southeast. During the three out of four BCS championships, many players from outside the lines of Alabama have assisted in those championships and as long as Saban is at the helm, he will continue to do so.
However, where things appear to have gone awry are the in-state stars who may be classified as three stars or low-end four stars who have long dominated the state yet failed to get noticed on a national level — these players seem to wind up at other SEC schools instead of where they belong, which is in the state of Alabama.
It’s unfortunate that players such as Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska, 2nd round), Trey Flowers (Arkansas, 4th round), Kwon Alexander (LSU, 4th round), and Darius Philon (Arkansas, 6th round) among others wound up helping other programs win games when they should have stayed in-state.
I can point to countless names who may not have been the most highly recruited players on a national scale, but were darn good players while donning the crimson and white uniform. Players such as Cory Reamer, Nick Gentry, Brandon Gibson, Josh Chapman, and Marquis Maze are a handful of players over the years that now, would be lucky to receive a scholarship offer based on the recruiting tactics Saban now uses. Yet, they were all intricate pieces to winning national championships during their tenure. Take a look at this breakdown over the last several years of how many in-state players signed with the Tide compared to recent years:
2008 – 18 (32)
2009- 10 (28)
2010 – 10 (26)
2011 – 6 (23)
2012 – 8 (26)
2013 – 7 (25)
2014 – 7 (26)
2015 – 6 (24)
As you can see, since 2010, the Tide has not signed more than eight players who are from the state of Alabama. If you scan the rosters of those championship teams, many of those players are four and fifth year seniors who are in-state players. They may not be NFL bound, but they love their university too much that wearing another team’s jersey for the sake of extra playing time is not enough to keep them away from home.
These are the guys who will go all out on special teams and sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the team in practices just to ensure a national championship is possible. The last few years one can surmise the team dynamic has shifted to more of a sense of entitlement in which some players may be using Alabama as a bridge to get to the next level. For those players who stood the test of time, it was clear a childhood dream was enough to keep them grinding out two-a-days sweating in 100 degree weather not knowing if this was the year they finally crack the depth chart.
The sooner Alabama gets back to this, one can expect another continuous run of championships. The talent is more than enough to keep Alabama in the top 10 every year. However, when talent isn’t enough, passion and dedication to a team and the pride of representing the state will trump that every time.