In just a few short weeks, the Alabama Crimson Tide will take the field with a team looking for its next set of future stars and team leaders. There are certainly more than enough experienced players returning from the Tide's 2011 BCS title team, but there are also a number of freshmen who will look to pave their own ways into the Alabama history books.
Given what Alabama lost to the NFL after last season, coach Nick Saban will be looking at a handful of freshman and redshirt freshman recruits to step in and fill some major league holes in 2012. These kids have the talent and the hype to make it to the big time, but can they be as successful as some of their predecessors?
In the last decade, Alabama has made it somewhat of a habit of putting a freshman or two on the Football Writers Association of America's Freshman All-America Team. Newcomers to Alabama such as T. J. Yeldon, Dee Hart, Eddie Williams, Landon Collins, and Amari Cooper will each strive to be the next Tide footballer to earn that distinction.
What they may not be aware of, though, is how many Alabama players have added this All-American honor to their resumes in the last few years. It's a list that is a virtual who's who of recent Alabama football.
Linebacker C. J. Mosley ended a stellar 2010 season by finishing third on the Tide with 67 tackles while also returning a pair of interceptions for touchdowns.
Two years later, Mosley has recovered from an injury suffered in the BCS championship game against LSU where we saw him carted off the field. Mosley will be a key part of Alabama's quest for a repeat title performance and will join Nico Johnson in effort to be the vocal and emotional leaders for the Alabama defense.
The Theodore, AL native is expected to return to his freshman form this season and could very possibly work his way back on to All-American watch lists.
Outland Trophy winner, unanimous All-American, if you can name it, Barrett Jones has probably won it. Jones has been a standout offensive lineman at Alabama since the day he stepped on campus.
Jones started all 14 games as a freshman while helping the offensive line to lead Alabama to the first of its two national titles in Jones' career at the Capstone.
Jones has played every position on the offensive line at one point or another at Alabama and, barring injury, is pretty much a sure bet to be a first team All-American once again in 2012.
When his days at Alabama are over, Jones will go down in Tide history as one of the best linemen to ever wear the crimson and white.
Julio Jones came to Alabama as one of the most hyped recruits in Tide history. In his first game for the Tide, Jones caught his first touchdown pass to help Alabama pull of what was considered to be an upset at the time over Clemson in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.
Julio quickly became a fan favorite and, with help from his unusual combination of size, strength, and speed, emerged immediately as one of the most dangerous ball catchers in the country. After three years at Alabama, Jones moved on to the NFL where he now is in his second season with the Atlanta Falcons.
Hightower started 12 games as a freshman for the Tide, recording 64 tackles, 26 of them solo. The linebacker, like Barrett Jones, played a vital role on a pair of national title teams before leaving the Tide for the bright lights of the NFL. In his junior season, he was a consensus first team All-American and a finalist for the Butkus, Lombardi, and Bednarek awards.
As a freshman, linebacker Rolando McClain was fourth on the Alabama defense in tackles with 75. The future Butkus award winner and first round NFL draft pick continued a long line of elite linebackers for the Tide. In Saban's first season at Alabama, McClain played in all 13 games, starting eight of them.
McClain eventually became the director of Saban's defense, barking out assignments while punishing ball handlers across the SEC. His speed and nose for the football led him to become yet another Alabama linebacker legend.
McClain went on to a stellar three year career before opting out of his senior year and joining the Oakland Raiders in the NFL.
As a freshman, Andre Smith started all 13 games for the Tide and led the team in snaps played with 831 while recording 62 pancake blocks. Smith started at left tackle in every game he played at Alabama before leaving after his junior season to join the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals.
Prince Hall was third on the team in tackles in his freshman campaign with 77 including 10 for negative yards. Unfortunately, Hall is an example of how talent does not guarantee anything, though. After sitting through three suspensions at Alabama, Hall left the Tide to play his senior season at Central Washington.
Nonetheless, Hall had a terrific freshman season for Alabama.