Sometimes, the answer to the secret hides in plain view.
How does Alabama football coach Nick Saban pull together a highly regarded recruiting class year after year? How did he attract a whopping seven five-star prospects this time around, including Thursday’s addition of cornerback Desmond Ricks of Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy?
What is in the sauce?
On the very day Saban stood at a podium to discuss a new collection of talent for 2023, the NFL announced this year’s Pro Bowl rosters. One-eighth of them − 11 of 88 − came from Alabama. That’s an absolutely stunning total, and one that speaks to why the Crimson Tide is a destination program for top recruits. No other school in the Southeastern Conference had three Pro Bowlers. Ohio State had two. Clemson? One.
Alabama’s Pro Bowl roll call: Quarterback Jalen Hurts, running backs Josh Jacobs and Derrick Henry, guard Landon Dickerson, defensive linemen Quinnen Williams and Jonathan Allen, linebacker C.J. Mosley, and defensive backs Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pat Surtain, Marlon Humphrey and Trevon Diggs. Pro Bowlers are selected by a vote of fans, players and coaches.
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And you’d better believe that NFL success makes a difference.
That doesn’t mean high school recruits are busy tallying the Pro Bowl presence of their favorite schools, but the Pro Bowl is, if nothing else, a rock-solid indicator of who the league’s true stars are. And that’s who those recruits are paying attention to. Who they turn on the TV for. Who they’re YouTubing to study technique.
The NFL is their Holy Grail; a dream that is still a longshot for college players, but one that looks a little more attainable from Tuscaloosa than anywhere else in the country. Why wouldn’t it? Along with 11 Pro Bowlers, 70 players from UA have appeared in an NFL game this season, which is a record. With only 46 players per club activated for game days, that’s enough to outfit an entire NFL team on a Sunday, plus about half of another. Eight Alabama players will compete at the Reese’s Senior Bowl in February, which is at least twice as many as any other school, based on the all-star game’s current list of accepted invitations.
A lot more goes into successful recruiting, of course.
Players consider proximity to home, academics, who they rooted for as a kid, which school showed them the most attention, which coach they like best, and of course, the newfound NIL windfall. Family members and high school coaches and teammates and girlfriends can get involved. It can be messy and complicated, this recruiting thing.
But there’s nothing complicated about the attraction of the NFL. For recruits, it’s the North Star. It’s where NIL dollars look like pennies.
And it’s a major reason why Alabama’s brand recruits unto itself.
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread.