TUSCALOOSA | It was the University of Alabama's 2008 signing class that attracted the limelight and produced such star players as Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Dont'a Hightower, Mark Barron and Marcell Dareus.
But the class that preceded it, in 2007, also had a strong hand in Alabama's rise from a two-year stretch of .500 football (13-13 from 2006-2007) to one of the nation's elite programs. Members from both classes will be honored on Senior Day Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. But it's the fifth-year seniors such as wide receiver Brandon Gibson who have been with the Crimson Tide from the very beginning of the Nick Saban era as part of the 2007 class.
"It's definitely gone by fast. I can remember the first day I stepped on campus five years ago," Gibson said. "It's been a great time. I've had fun times I'll remember for the rest of my life."
Other key members of Saban's first class included current starters Darius Hanks, Josh Chapman, Marquis Maze and William Vlachos, key reserves such as lineman Alfred McCullough, and early NFL departures Rolando McClain and Kareem Jackson. Saban recalls it being a strong year for in-state talent.
"That year we thought there were a lot of good players, and almost all those players turned out to be good players. They've contributed a significant amount here," Saban said. "I know what those guys have done and how hard we worked to get those guys here."
That year, Saban took a group of recruits that had committed to previous coach Mike Shula, such as Vlachos and McClain, and added them to some late commitments that his staff offered, such as Chapman and Hanks. The result was a group that had a strong hand in a 2009 national title and remains a key influence on the 2011 team.
"We had to hire another pilot because we wore the two we had out putting that class together, traveling all over the place. Now I'm not allowed to go any place any more, so now we've got three and they've got nothing to do," Saban joked.
"It's real fun. I get to pick my hole, and I enjoy running the offense at that moment. AJ (McCarron) is always in there as a receiver, so I'll go tell him to line up (at receiver) right now. I'm running the offense. I have fun with it." - Trent Richardson on the wildcat formation.
Did you know?
Georgia Southern senior quarterback Jaybo Shaw is a transfer from another option offense: Georgia Tech. Shaw has accounted for 17 touchdowns this season for the Eagles, 10 rushing and seven passing.
Running back Eddie Lacy said he is wearing a size 13 cleat on his left foot and a size 14 on his right to accommodate the additional tape being used to help his recovery from turf toe. ... Defensive end Jesse Williiams (shoulder injury) was back in a regular jersey for Wednesday's practice. Williams was withheld from contact for Monday and Tuesday's practices. Saban said defensive back Vinnie Sunseri (concussion) "is fine", while offensive lineman Barrett Jones (ankle) continues to be evaluated day to day. ... Saban said running back Dee Hart, who has not been practicing of late, continues to work through personal issues but remains a member of the team.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196.