How Alabama's 2007 Recruiting Class Started the Crimson Tide Dynasty
After defeating Texas A&M 49-42 on Saturday in College Station, it's clear that reports of Alabama's demise following a sluggish season-opening win over Virginia Tech were greatly exaggerated.
Having won three of last four national championships, and with a No. 1 ranking attached to its name this season, Alabama is playing at a level unlike any program in the BCS era.
But how did it get to this point?
It's taken relentless recruiting, players that buy into the system and the ability to focus on perfection from the top of the athletic department to the bottom.
From a personnel standpoint, this run began with the 2007 recruiting class. In just one short month on the job, head coach Nick Saban was able to reel in the nation's 10th-best class, according to Rivals.com. That doesn't seem so impressive now, considering the Crimson Tide routinely find themselves in the top spot of those rankings every February.
But for a program coming off a 6-7 season (all six wins were later vacated) and the four-year Mike Shula debacle, it was.
One of the headliners from that class was Brandon Gibson from UMS-Wright Preparatory School in Mobile, Ala. Gibson was a 4-star prospect who was impressed by Saban when he got the job.
"The first time I saw him [Saban], I was starstruck," Gibson said. "He's a great coach with great character and great integrity. He wants the right things for his players not only on the football field, but in life. The first time he came in to talk to me and my family, I was pretty much sold."
Alabama went 7-6 (five of those wins were later vacated) in Saban's first season, but Gibson and his fellow signees in that first class recognized that the future of the program rested on their shoulders.
"We just knew that we were the beginning," he said. "We knew that we were going to start something special....Whether it was in team meetings or in get-togethers as freshman, we made a decision to really buy into what Coach Saban was saying."
Gibson was a member of two national title teams (2009 and '11), catching 20 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown between 2008-11. Alabama added another in 2012. For Gibson though, it's still all about the process.
"I wouldn't call it a dynasty," he said. "He (Saban) doesn't like those words, and I don't like them either. Once you get that mindset, you get complacent. Winning two national championships isn't typical these days. But at Alabama, it's the only thing that's accepted."
Of the recruits signed in that class, 15 of the 24 committed after Saban was hired. Included in those 15 were defensive back Kareem Jackson and wide receivers Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks.
"Hanks was a guy who they just kind of found," said JC Shurburtt, national recruiting director of 247Sports.com. "Kareem Jackson was at prep school. I remember watching Marquis Maze on film, and thought 'man, this kid can play.' But the in-state schools weren't really in on him. He was originally committed to Michigan before 'Bama came in and got him late."
Those players served as part of the foundation for what became the newest edition of the Crimson Tide dynasty.
Jackson had 49 tackles, 13 pass breakups and one interception on Alabama's 2009 national title team—the first title team of the modern-day dynasty.
Maze had 523 receiving yards and two touchdowns that season, and led the team with 627 receiving yards during the 2011 national championship season.
Hanks caught 84 passes for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns during his career, winning two national titles in the process.
"What was very interesting is that, the three guys that you mentioned weren't exactly the types of level of recruits—at least on paper—that Saban gets now," Shurburtt said.
But it wasn't just the relatively unknown players who made a difference out of the 2007 class.
Rolando McClain was a 4-star linebacker from Decatur, Ala., who had been committed to the Crimson Tide before Saban arrived. Saban made sure McClain held to his commitment, and McClain became a big part of beginning of the dynasty.
"That guy was a phenomenal leader," Saban told AL.com in June. "He affected everybody in the organization at a time when we needed leadership because we had a lot of bad things happen when I first got there."
Keeping this class together and closing strong in 2007 with some key additions laid the foundation for the Alabama dynasty in just one month's time. Without those players from the 2007 class, the Alabama dynasty may have struggled to get off the ground.
"Sometimes you just go out and get who you can get," Shurburtt said. "Sometimes, it's hit or miss."
Saban hit on some key contributors in his first month on the job, and the rest—as they say—is history.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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