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April 26, 2012

Banner day for former UA stars

TUSCALOOSA | The University of Alabama tied a year-old school record by placing four first-round choices in the National Football League Draft Thursday night, led by running back Trent Richardson, who was taken by the Cleveland Browns with the No. 3 overall pick.

Richardson became the highest-drafted running back in school history, while UA safety Mark Barron was chosen No. 7 overall by the Tampa Bay Bucs to become the highest-drafted defensive back in UA history. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was chosen by the Cincinnati Bengals No. 17 overall, and the New England Patriots traded up to the No. 25 selection to take UA linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

"It is very exciting for these guys," UA head coach Nick Saban said. "But the first thing I remember is going into these guys' houses when they were in high school or going to their high school to see them when they were juniors. I'm saying 'that doesn't seem like it was that long ago' but the guy you met then and the man they are now - that is one of the great things about college football. To see these guys develop, grow and mature, personally, academically and athletically really makes you feel proud. And that is one of the things I love about college coaching."

Of the five UA players who were projected as potential first-round picks and made the trip to New York City to attend the event live, the only one who was not drafted was linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who is expected to be an early second-round pick when the draft resumes Friday night.

"I really can't explain it right now, but I didn't expect to go this high, but I worked hard at what I do so to make it this far is a blessing," Richardson told NFL Network. "There's a lot of faith and a lot of hope out there for a lot of other people just to let them know that, hey, I never gave up."

Richardson became the second consecutive No.3 overall pick from UA after defensive tackle Marcell Dareus went to the Buffalo Bills in the same slot last year.

Dareus signed a four-year, $20.4 million dollar deal with the Bills, which is a strong predictor for what Richardson's deal will be worth.

Barron was chosen by the Bucs significantly higher than most expected, but as the top-ranked safety available, need for the position spurred his early selection. Barron can expect a contract somewhat similar to last year's No. 7 choice, Aldon Smith, who signed for $14.4 million over four years with the San Francisco 49ers.

Alabama's highest-drafted defensive back before Barron was Antonio Langham, chosen at No. 9 by the Cleveland Browns in 1994.

Kirkpatrick filled a need for man-to-man coverage with the Bengals, and could also play safety at the next level.

Said Kirkpatrick: "I'm not going to come in with the big head, trying to take anybody's shine ... I want to learn."

Kirkpatrick's contract model, that of last year's No. 17 choice, Nate Solder, is four years for $8.54 million. Last year's pick in Hightower's No. 25 slot, is his former UA teammate, offensive lineman James Carpenter. The Seattle Seahawks gave Carpenter a four-year, $7.64 million deal.

Hightower, with four years of experience in Alabama's 3-4 defense, is an ideal fit for the Patriots' similar scheme. Patriots coach Bill Belichick was on hand for Hightower's Pro Day performance in Tuscaloosa last month, and once worked with Saban on the Browns' coaching staff.

"Hightower's been in a great program for a great coach," Belichick said. "He's won a couple of national championships, and he's been the signal caller of that defense."

Earlier Thursday, legendary ex-Browns running back and Hall of Famer Jim Brown described Richardson as "ordinary" in an interview with ESPN. Asked about Brown's remarks, Richardson deferred to Brown's place in Browns history.

"I don't have a reaction to that because I've got a lot to play for," Richardson said, according to the Browns' official web site. "With big shoes and the stuff he did in life, I've got a lot to prove. I don't listen to anything negative about it and I'm going to prove him wrong. I'm an ordinary human, but as a back, I'm going to be that special guy."

Reach Chase Goodbread chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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