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January 30, 2013

HURT: Recruiting fortune not easily obtained

In terms of college football memory, a decade can pass in the blink of an eye. How many Alabama fans can remember tiny details of the 1992 Crimson Tide's championship win over Miami? That was two decades ago.

On the other hand, some memories are pushed aside, buried away as part of bad times that are better left to the past, particularly when times are good. In terms of football recruiting, times are very good indeed at Alabama. There is a lot of drama going into the final week of recruiting, with a half-dozen or more of the nation's top 100 prospects still giving Alabama careful consideration. It may only take a couple of those players to once again put the Crimson Tide at No. 1 in the nation in most recruiting service rankings.

With Nick Saban at the helm and crystal footballs piling up like Katherine Webb's modeling offers, it is easy to feel like it has always been that way at Alabama. But it hasn't.

Just a decade ago, Alabama was at the opposite end of the spectrum. The jaws of the trap known as NCAA probation had clamped shut a year earlier, so with limited scholarships, a postseason ban and idle NCAA threats about a possible "reopening" of the case based on court proceedings in Memphis, things were bad even before Dennis Franchione jumped ship in December 2002. The class that Mike Price finally put together consisted of 19 players. Sixteen came from within Alabama. Rivals ranked the Alabama class as No. 49 in the nation, and it might not have been that high if there hadn't been some four-star prospects (Dominic Lee, Tim Castille, Le'Ron McLain, Matt Caddell) who resided nearby and/or had Alabama ties. Ultimately, the most noteworthy members of the class were wide receiver Tyrone Prothro, headed for greatness before his catastrophic injury, and Wallace Gilberry, a prospect so lightly regarded that UA was able to sign him after he stood out in a summer all-star game.

The only two contributors from outside the state, at least in terms of getting playing time, were tackle Chris Capps and defensive end Keith Saunders. Compare that to the 2012 contributors from beyond the borders - Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones, Jesse Williams (from way beyond the borders), Amari Cooper, Eddie Lacy and many more - and you get some idea of how hamstrung Alabama really was.

This isn't a criticism of the 2003 class. If anything, Alabama fans should be grateful to those players who knew what they were facing, signed on anyway and wound up playing their whole careers for a coach that they never met during the recruiting process. Many played key roles in Alabama's 2005 Cotton Bowl season. But it would have been impossible to fashion consistent BCS championship seasons without consistent top-tier recruiting. It was unimaginable at that time for Alabama, despite its name recognition and tradition, to lure top prospects from New Jersey and Texas and California.

Recruiting five-star players isn't the only part of the formula, by any means. Success requires evaluation in recruiting and development from the moment prospects arrive. But as the Crimson Tide reaps another top class in the coming week, it is worth remembering that just a short decade ago, things were very, very different. And while great recruiting is certainly a source of enjoyment at Alabama, people have to realize that it isn't an entitlement.

TideSports.com Recruiting: Bone's chat transcript

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


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