Fresh off a 2018 NSD that saw the Tide sign just 21 players and finish 5th in the crootin’ rankings, Nick Saban adjusted and very much rebounded with a “never again” class — another No. 1 NSD haul that addressed nearly every level on both sides of the ball.
Here’s what the Head Man had to say in a lengthy press conference (Potter’s verbatim transcript):
“If you really wanted to evaluate a recruiting class, I guess, if you looked a couple of years down the road and said, ‘Well, how many of those guys developed into something that they thought that they could be?’ that would be a much truer evaluation of a class. But we certainly feel fortunate that we’re able to attract the quality of people. We’re certainly satisfied. We wanted to recruit a lot of linemen in this class, and to get five offensive linemen and six defensive linemen was probably a really good thing. I felt like five defensive backs was a really good thing for us. A couple of running backs to replace the guys that we lost this year, a couple of quarterbacks that we’ll try to develop to see if they can create some competition at that position. So, there’s a lot of good things in this class.”
In a more intimate interview, Coach Saban sat down with the 247/BOL crew on their NSD class. It had been hinted at before this interview that Eyabi Anoma’s transfer was not a done deal, despite his entry into the portal.
Saban had more to say, and the 5-star DE isn’t leaving just yet.
What have your discussions been like with Eyabi Anoma?
“We had a meeting yesterday, which I meet with all the players on Monday and Tuesday before Signing Day when we’re in the dead period and can’t travel. And I think a lot of guys have a lot of high expectations for what they want to do, how much they want to play, and we try to get them to focus on their development here so that they can perform well and protect from getting on the field before they’re ready. He’s a great pass-rusher. We probably could’ve used him a little bit more in that regard this year. But I think the’s going to develop into a fine player, and I think that’s what he needs to stay focused on. We had a good meeting, and we’re happy to try to help him develop into be all he can be because I think he can be a really fine player.”
So, it’s official, y’all. Anoma is not going anywhere.
Can the Tide really be a loser after finishing with the No. 2 class in the nation? Well, considering that they were viewed as a virtual lock to win the recruiting national championship following the Early Signing Period, Wednesday’s proceedings didn’t exactly go as planned. First, the Tide saw four-star defensive end Khris Bogle flip to Florida, then they watched as tight end target Brett Seither signed with Georgia and linebacker target Henry To’oto’o committed to Tennessee. Alabama is still loaded and still a favorite to make the College Football Playoff next season, but having several players slip away on signing day isn’t the Nick Saban way.
The Tide signed the nation’s No. 1 class. Both Bogle and To’oto’o — committed though they were — never stopped taking visits or flirting, and both were soft verbals going into NSD. Given the immediate need at OLB in Knoxville and DE in Gainesville, both will be day-one starters. Every local recruiting site had called their decommits. Williams was always up in the air as well; again, immediate P/T is available in Coral Gables...and the Tide had stopped recruiting him in any event. Finally, Alabama was in on Brett Seither, but the overwhelming notion was that he was going to Athens. Somehow these developments were a shock only to Rivals? C’mon, man.
There are 129 other schools in the country that would kill to be the “losers” Rivals tagged Alabama and its 2019 class.
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Alabama has brought in the top-rated recruiting class in the nation. With National Signing Day still in progress on Wednesday, coach Nick Saban and Co. have locked up the No. 1 roster in the Class of 2019, according to 247Sports.
Not only do the Crimson Tide have three top-10 players signed in five-stars defensive end Antonio Alfano, running back Trey Sanders and offensive tackle Evan Neal, they have a total of 11 top 100 signings and 10 more in the top 200 of the 247Sports Composite. In other words, 21 of the 27 players committed to Alabama for 2019 rank among the top 200 players in the nation.
If it lasts longer than four hours, dear reader, please seek immediate medical attention.
That the Tide could seal the deal on its top-rated class is amazing, given that five coaches have moved on in the past month. Saban addressed the problems that staff turnover causes on the trail:
“Basically, two of the three guys that we signed today were committed to us before, so the coaches did a really good job of keeping those guys in the fold,” Saban said in a crimson blazer.
“I do think there was probably a player or two out there that, because of the relationship change from the coach that was recruiting them to the new coach, may have been a little bit of a problem for them because those relationships are really, really important.”
Tosh Lupoi and Henry To’oto’o is one example. Though he cannot name any particular student athlete, we can.
My favorite player of this class, sight-unseen, is Antonio Alfano.
“I’ve had several meetings with the young players. We like his work ethic,” Saban said. “He obviously has been a very productive player. We like his size. What we’ve seen of him in high school is the same thing you’ve seen of him. Again, we’re going to focus on his development, and hopefully, he’s someone that can help us early on.”
Early enrollees were not made available for interviews with local media Wednesday, though Alfano did a brief one with Alabama’s official website. In it, Alfano said he has gained 17 pounds since arriving on campus in January “from eating and working out.”
If true, Alfano is now pushing 300 pounds, with a motor that doesn’t stop, a mean streak, and all of the tools and skills you could possibly want out of a pass-rushing DE. Comparisons to TJ Watt are not at all out of line.
Perhaps the biggest NSD surprise for ‘Bama was the Tide closing the deal on DT Ishmael Sophser, a huge get at defensive tackle. This one was frankly the nastiest recruiting war of the 2019 cycle for the Tide, with his LOI coming down to LSU and Alabama (though Ole Miss was marginally in the mix.) There was a ton of pressure on Sopsher to stay home.
Sopsher had even drawn the attention of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, who said: “I’m encouraging him, not directly, to stay in-state, and if he does that, in all likelihood, it means LSU.”
Despite the in-state pressure, Sopsher has chosen the Crimson Tide. Alabama is set to once again have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.
Another local take, this one from Rodney and his venerable TiderInsider site:
Rodney Orr of TiderInsider joined The Game with Ryan Fowler to discuss the biggest takeaways for the Crimson Tide on National Signing Day and 5-star defensive tackle Antonio Alfano could play in his freshman season.
For more of Rodney Orr’s thoughts on National Signing Day, make sure you watch the video above the article.
The Tide did miss on its lone tight end target, raising the prospect that ‘Bama looks to the Portal to fill a much-needed position.
Asked if he might look to the Transfer Portal or other places to meet a need, Saban pointed out that tight end Hale Hentges and graduated and tight end Irv Smith had departed for the NFL draft and that the Tide had signed only one tight end (Jaheel Billingsley).
“If we saw some opportunity to get a more seasoned player out there at that position, that’s maybe something that we might look at. We’re constantly going to have our eyes peeled for someone that can help us have a better team.”
He said adding “a graduate transfer or whatever, for their sake and for yours, they have to go somewhere where they can contribute. And they have to be the standard that we’re looking for.”
In other crootin’ surprises, this one was probably more a PR win for Georgia than a substantive loss to the Auburn Tigers:
To say this is a surprise is probably an understatement. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound wideout had been committed to Auburn since July 2017. He took several visits over the past few months, though, including a mix of official and unofficial visits to Georgia, LSU, Miami and Tennessee. However, his last unofficial visit was to Auburn on Feb. 3, leaving many to believe that he was still firm with the Tigers. Obviously, the news comes has a huge blow to Auburn and a major win for Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs.
Pickens was the No. 2 WR in the class, but several teams had cooled on his recruitment — some, with mutual interest, even outright stopped recruiting him. Pickens is going to be an academic casualty, but will destroy the JUCO circuit at Blinn (TX) or Coffeyville (KS).
Still, recruiting is a game of perceptions: Auburn is a place where talent goes to die, underdeveloped and unappreciated; UGA is one of the nation’s hot programs, where talented players want to play with other stars. Pickens’ flip only reinforces that notion.
If I thought that we weren’t doing that in one game or ten games, I would address it with the players and make sure that everybody was on board with those principles and values that have helped us be successful. I don’t think we played in that game with the Alabama factor. So everybody needs to understand that and respond to it.”
In cryptic fashion, Saban implied the team became complacent after it raced to a 14-0 start during a run that included 13 wins by ten or more points.
Complacency, lack of leadership, and inattention are simply unacceptable at this program. Who emerges to take the helm is anyone’s guess. But one suspects that The Alabama Factor will be as much of a coaching emphasis and Xs and Os in 2019.
That’s it for now. But, it’s a pretty good day to Gump, y’all. This is one helluva’ class, particularly along the defensive line.