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April 21, 2012

HURT: Draft puts UA in the spotlight

The date was April 26, 2008, when the National Football League Draft came and went, then lasted through April 27, too, without a single University of Alabama name called.

The date, less than two years later, was Jan. 7, 2010. On that day, in the BCS Championship Game, Alabama fielded a team with a probable 11 first-round draft choices - maybe more, depending on the future development of a couple of players. Six members of that team - Rolando McClain, Kareem Jackson, Julio Jones, James Carpenter, Marcell Dareus and Mark Ingram - are already in the NFL as first-rounders. As many as five of their teammates are poised to join them later this week, and while the vagaries of "falling stock" might put one of those prospects into the second round, most draft experts don't think so.

By the time the 2013 draft wraps up, 20 members of that team will probably have been drafted, with 11 first-rounders.

That is an impressive number. Miami's 2001 national champions, an awesome assemblage of Larry Coker-proof talent, had 17 eventual first-rounders and a staggering 27 total draftees. By way of local comparison, Alabama's 1992 national title team had 17 eventual draftees, four of whom were first-rounders. The 1979 team had 18 players drafted over the next four years, with three first-rounders (Don McNeal, E.J. Junior and Mike Pitts). There is an asterisk attached to that total, since the draft at that time was 12 rounds. By today's seven-round standard, that team would have had 11 draftees.

So the short version: That 2009 Alabama team was loaded, and it got loaded quickly, between an amazing February 2008 signing class and stellar player development. The story hasn't been told yet on the 2011 BCS champions, although one suspects the numbers will be similar, eventually. Nick Saban, taking advantage of the resources at hand and enhancing them with hard work, has made the program self-sustaining at the highest level.

There is a current debate in college athletics, spawned by Kentucky's basketball championship, about whether it serves the purpose of college athletics for schools to be a way station on the route to a professional career. Some attempt has been made to tie "one-and-done" players in basketball to "three-and-done" football players, but it really isn't valid.

Three years on campus puts many players close to a degree, and certainly provides a full college experience. I'm not a huge fan of the "one-and-done" situation in basketball, but don't fault Kentucky (or Duke, or Alabama) for trying to recruit the best eligible players. For better or worse, draft success does have a tendency to regenerate itself.

Being drafted by a professional league is the fulfillment of what has become the American Dream - instant riches, national recognition and undeniable cachet. Whether that should be the American Dream is a different debate for a different time. But when the perception is out that a program can enhance your chances, recruits notice.

Should draft success be a school's only recruiting tool? Of course not. No college football team will ever be fielded with more future draftees than nondraftees, and even draftees are better off with a diploma.

On the other hand, it is worth mentioning. Rest assured, when Alabama was on the outside looking in at the 2008 draft, other schools mentioned it. So when the names are called Thursday, it will be a cause for celebration at UA - as long as it is a celebration with perspective.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.



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