For the fifth time in six years, Nick Saban and his staff of assistant coaches have put together a recruiting class Rivals.com ranks No. 1 in the nation. Scout.com listed Alabama as third behind No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan, but gave the Tide credit for signing the nation’s top inside linebacker (Reuben Foster), tight end (O.J. Howard), defensive tackle (A’Shawn Richardson) and even long snapper (Cole Mazza).
Alabama has turned those recruiting classes into national championship squads on the field three times in the last four seasons, although Saban cautioned against having the same expectations.
“Just because you pick the puppy dog with the biggest feet doesn’t mean it’s going to grow up to be the biggest or best hunting dog. That’s as simple as what I learned in West Virginia when I was little,” Saban said Wednesday after wrapping up signing day with 25 new players on scholarship.
Alabama finished off its effort Wednesday when three final prospects announced they are headed to Tuscaloosa — two of the nation’s highest-rated defensive linemen (Dee Liner of Muscle Shoals and A’Shawn Robinson) and Norcross, Ga., running back Alvin Kamara.
The 2013 recruiting class includes six players who are consensus five-star performers, which is the highest rating online recruiting services give. And 14 more are four-star players.
“Whenever you can get recruits to come in and have a great class, it means a lot,” said Howard, who signed with Alabama out of Autauga Academy in Prattville. “That’s how you keep winning championships. You can’t just stop rebuilding.”
Saban and his staff didn’t limit their efforts to inside Alabama’s borders for players. The 25 players in the class come from 13 different states, with only seven coming from instate.
“Our best opportunity to land good players is probably going to come within a five-hour radius of here,” Saban said. “But we’re still going to be able to get guys from other places, because they’re attracted to our conference. They’re attracted to the competition we have here at the University of Alabama, the kind of games we play in, the kind of success we’ve had.”
Alabama added depth by signing three defensive linemen. The Crimson Tide lost three of its top four defensive linemen from 2012 to graduation.
Alabama also signed a couple of wide receivers to shore up a position that didn’t appear deep in 2012. Also, Saban signed Mazza of Bakersfield, Calif., to replace departing senior Carson Tinker, who held the job for three years.
But Alabama signed four running backs, even though four are returning. Saban pointed out that the four who are returning are chief backup T.J. Yeldon, little-used Kenyan Drake and two players coming back from knee surgery (Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart).
“To me, to have really good depth at running back, you need five really good players,” he said. “Three guys usually play a lot. ... Several of these guys we recruited are going to have lots of opportunity to contribute this year.”
Alabama also signed two quarterbacks: Cooper Bateman of Murray, Utah, and Parker McLeod of Marietta, Ga. In addition, Luke Del Rio of Highlands Ranch, Colo., turned down major college scholarship offers, enrolled at Alabama in January, and will walk on.
However, Alabama returns four quarterbacks, including senior starter AJ McCarron.
“We don’t think we have too many guys there,” Saban said.
He also hinted the newcomers won’t necessarily go to the back of the line.
“The way opportunities go is it doesn’t happen by seniority,” he said. “You probably look at it like, ‘Well, this guy’s been here the longest, so he gets the most chance.’ If he’s been here the longest, he’s already had the most chances. If he hasn’t taken advantage of those opportunities, then somebody else has a turn at getting those chances.”