As Alabama fans, we’ve been spoiled for almost two decades now with a parade of five-star talent from across the globe, First Round NFL draft picks, All-Americans, SEC crowns and national titles. But it wasn’t that long ago when the Crimson Tide had to fight and scrape every moment, for every player; where guys rarely made the pros; where players even more rarely received national accolades.
The 2008 NSD recruiting class changed all that. In fact, it keyed the start of a dynasty. We’ve written at length, often, about the impact that the 2008 class had on the Tide’s trajectory. Usually Julio Jones is singled out as being the one single player who tipped over the dominoes.
But Julio wasn’t alone. Far from it. That class also welcomed future All-Americans and NFLers Terrence Cody, Barrett Jones, Marcell Dareus, the Tide’s first Heisman winner Mark Ingram, All-SEC Robert Lester, and future NFL mainstay, Damion Square.
Almost as an afterthought, the class also signed a 4-star linebacker from Tennessee who wasn’t even in the ESPN Top 300 — he wasn’t even Top 20 at his position. But his addition would prove to be instrumental in building the Alabama defensive machine that became Joyless Murderball 1.0: the terror of Dont’a Hightower. Zeus.
Fiery. Ferocious. Fast.
Violence made flesh.
Hightower was the perfect player at the perfect time — a dominant off-ball ILB capable of rushing the passer and wrapping up in equal measure. Leading from the front, he was the emotive heart and soul of a terrifying front seven that stalked SEC sidelines for years.
He was much of a no-brainer as you could get for an NFL thin on talent at the position, and in an era where ILB was still valued. Zeus also landed at the perfect place, with the perfect coach: Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
With the Pats, Hightower again assumed the mantel of defensive leader, and was one of the best — if not the best — at his position for the better part of a decade.
3× Super Bowl champion (XLIX, LI, LIII)
New England Patriots All-2010s Team
New England Patriots All-Dynasty Team
2× BCS national champion (2009, 2011)
Consensus All-American (2011)
But today, he’s hanging them up.
It’s been a hell of a ride & a career beyond my wildest dreams. It’s time to hang em up, from the bottom of my heart - thank you to everyone who played a part. @playerstribune #boomtower https://t.co/Bb2hA9BL9A— Dont'a Hightower (@zeus30hightower) March 21, 2023
And in so doing, Dont’a penned an earnest, heartfelt piece for The Player’s Tribune:
I’ll never forget when we were in the locker room at half-time. We’re down 21–3, so some guys are quiet, and some guys are doing the rah-rah stuff. I sat there and for some reason thought, “Man, I don’t even have a son yet. But one day, he’s going to watch the tape of this game, and he’s gonna know one thing for sure. His dad never f***ing quit.”
I just want to say thank you for helping me live my dream.
To you, to my beautiful wife, Morgan, to all my coaches, my teammates, my mentors, my teachers, my friends, my entire family, and to all the fans at Bama and New England....
Thank you. Just thank you. I wouldn’t rewrite a single chapter of this story.
Dont’a will forever live in NFL lore for two plays, both in the biggest moments, upon the biggest of stages: the Super Bowl.
The Tackle: a title-saving tackle against Marshawn Lynch, that keyed the most controversial goal-line offensive call in NFL history — if ever one man could take down Beastmode, this is one of the few to lay claim to that ability.
And then the Strip-Sack, another game-changing play he made in the midst of the most improbable Super Bowl comeback win in history.
Zeus will never have to buy a drink again in Boston, and for good reason. But he will always be our hero first, and perhaps as one of the most beloved players of a bygone era of nasty defenses and nasty men willing to do great harm to win every play.
That’s how titles are won. And Hightower hangs ‘em up with two BCS National Titles, two SEC titles, and three NFL championships.
He never f’n quit.