Alabama Crimson Tide land historic class on National Signing Day
By RJ Young
FOX Sports college football reporter
They tell stories about Nick Saban’s recruiting efforts. Those stories have become legend, and the Alabama coach has put together yet another fabled recruiting class in 2021.
George Perles was Saban’s boss at Michigan State, and Saban never failed to impress him with his ability to close on a recruit like Blake did for Glengarry Glen Ross.
Hell, Saban hung out with Andre Rison’s grandmother over Christmas break, drinking beer and carrying on until 3 in the morning like a damn Matchbox Twenty song. All just to win Rison's signing. And Saban did win his signing.
"Nick always did such a great job in the homes," Perles said in Monte Burke's book, "Saban: The Making of a Coach." "He’d go for the mothers. He’d charm them, and they’d bite. When he left the room, those mothers would turn to their kids and say, ‘You go with him. He’s so nice.'"
So nice that he ruthlessly put together the best doggone recruiting class you’ve ever seen.
After finishing the 2020 season as national champion, Alabama finished the 2021 recruiting cycle with the No. 1 class of all time. (That's right: all time!)
This after we watched Saban's famed 2017 class win two national titles in four years.
According to the industry-generated 247 Sports Composite team rankings, the Tide amassed a score of 327.91. That surpassed the previous all-time high score of 324.67 set by Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators' 2010 recruiting class.
With this No. 1 finish, Alabama has secured the top spot in the team rankings for the ninth time in 11 years. But it did not start that way. In April, the Tide ranked as low as 55th after five-star quarterback Drake Maye flipped his commitment to North Carolina early last year.
But Saban, who aspired to own a car dealership after college, got on Zoom and Instagram Live, set up a Gmail account and went to work putting together a class that includes seven five-star players — in fewer than eight months.
For perspective, only four teams had more than five five-star players on their rosters last season: Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia, LSU and, of course, Alabama.
This is the reason Saban knew after his stint with the Miami Dolphins that college football – not the NFL – was the best fit for him.
"In the NFL, you were penalized for success," Saban said. "In the NFL, you only get one first-round draft pick, and that’s if it hadn’t already been traded away. You couldn’t outwork anybody. In college, I could recruit 10 players with first-round talent every year."
And he has for 15 years at Alabama. There are those who claim his grip on college football is bad for the sport. That one program this powerful, this almighty will ruin college football.
The same kind of folks said that about Barry Switzer in the '70s, Jimmy Johnson in the '80s, Bobby Bowden in the '90s and Pete Carroll in the '00s.
It’s short-sighted and fear-mongering, and it misses the point of Saban and college football as a sport. He outworked his colleagues, and what is more American, more college football than being willing to outwork your peers on merit and hustle to be the best in the land?
Saban doesn’t celebrate. He processes.
Here's a look at the other winners and losers from Wednesday's National Signing Day.
Winner: Ohio State’s depth chart
If the theme of NSD each year is "The Rich Get Richer," the Buckeyes can afford another house in the Hamptons. It’s not just that Ryan Day recruited the No. 2-ranked class in the country.
It’s not that the Buckeyes are the only team not named Alabama to sign five or more five-star players in this cycle. It’s not even that the quarterback room will feature two former four-stars and a true freshman five-star in 2021 early-enrollee Kyle McCord. (Not a bad way to rebound from the loss of Justin Fields to the NFL Draft.)
It’s that the gaping hole former Buckeyes running back Trey Sermon left in just eight games — two of the last three of which were legendary — has five-star tailback and early-enrollee TreVeyon Henderson running right through it.
Henderson did not play football his senior year after the state of Virginia canceled the fall season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a junior, though, he rushed for 2,424 yards with 45 touchdowns.
When considering his burst, his balance and his ability in space, it’s easy to see Christian McCaffrey as an apt comparison for Henderson.
MaxPreps national football editor Zack Poff told FOX Sports he believes Henderson could leave Columbus as one of the best running backs ever to don the scarlet and gray.
"You just turn on his junior tape," Poff said, "and you’re just like, 'What? No. Like, no — every play was a 70-yard house call.' I’m telling you, man, I feel like this dude is going to be, he could end up being better than Eddie George or Ezekiel Elliott and obviously all the other great Ohio State running backs.
"I don’t know if I want to get too carried away and say Archie Griffin, but I’ll say this: He’s gonna leave Ohio State as a top-three running back all time. That’s how high I am on this kid’s game, man."
Loser: People born before 1990
Here are six notable players you’ll recognize almost exclusively by name, and you'll immediately feel old.
Todd Bowles Jr. signed with Rutgers as a preferred walk-on. Yes, his father is Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who will coach in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
Four-star linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. signed with Clemson. Yes, his father is former NFL All-Pro linebacker Jeremiah Trotter.
Four-star wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. signed with Ohio State. Yes, his father is Pro Football Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison.
Four-star offensive lineman Rocco Spindler, whose father is former NFL veteran Marc Spindler, signed with Notre Dame.
Five-star offensive lineman Nolan Rucci, whose father is former NFL veteran Todd Rucci, signed with Wisconsin.
Three-star defensive lineman Owen Ostroski, whose father is former NFL veteran Jerry Ostroski, signed with Tulsa.
Perhaps the least known of these men by his name, the younger Ostroski was named to the MaxPreps Small High School All-America Team after leading Holland Hall (Tulsa, Oklahoma) to its first state championship in school history.
At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds — or 1 inch taller and 5 pounds heavier than Steve Rogers on the super serum — Ostroski notched 94 tackles, 41 for loss, 15 sacks and five forced fumbles as a senior. After first committing to Army, he flipped his commitment to TU, where his father was a consensus All-American in 1991.
"You saw how he completely dominated the season, his senior season," Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said, "and it was from the first game until the last game."
Loser: Folks who said Clay Helton was done at USC
After finishing the 2020 recruiting cycle with the worst team ranking ever at USC — 64th nationally and 12th in the Pac-12 — Helton put together a top-10 recruiting class and the second-best class in the Pac-12 in 2021.
While this class was sure to be a winner with blue-chip quarterbacks Miller Moss and MaxPreps National Player of the Year Jaxson Dart signed, Helton's winding up with the No. 1 overall player in the cycle, Korey Foreman, proves that he and his staff are elite recruiters.
The signing day commitment of Mater Dei alumnus and four-star outside linebacker Raesjon Davis was the cherry atop a spectacularly delicious class. Davis’ father, Rashad, acknowledged the moment to FOX Sports.
"Happy for my son," he said. "He's worked so hard for this moment."
Winner: J.T. Tuimoloau and financial aid agreement advocates
The nation’s top uncommitted prospect remained unsigned on National Signing Day. Defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau, as his No. 3 overall ranking suggests, could be selected in the first five picks of the 2024 NFL Draft.
At 6-foot-5, 277 pounds, he’s fluid, quick and powerful — in more ways than one.
A recruiting cycle almost always has at least one high-profile star who hasn’t settled on a school yet "for reasons," as one prospect told me.
The "reasons," in Tuimoloau’s case, are ones many can respect. He simply has not visited all of the schools among the five finalists he’s considering: Alabama, Ohio State, Washington, Oregon and USC.
His family is from Southern California, and he has attended Eastside Catholic in Sammamish, Washington. He traveled to Tuscaloosa once, but that was two years ago for a camp, and he has never visited Ohio State.
With the NCAA’s dead period nearing a full year, no high school recruit has been allowed to go to any school for an official visit. Some recruits took unofficial visits on their own but could not meet coaches or staff, which means they missed nearly everything that goes on inside the programs.
Tuimoloau is at a crossroads in his life where he not only is making a big decision but also holds the power to bend college football coaches to his needs for, perhaps, the last time. He’s smart to not decide until he feels comfortable.
What’s smarter still is that he doesn’t have to — or get to — sign a national letter of intent. Instead, he can sign a financial aid agreement.
An NLI binds the player to the university for a period of one year, at which point the university has the option to renew it. (There’s no such thing as a four-year scholarship.) A financial aid agreement doesn’t bind the player to the school at all. However, it binds the university to uphold its financial obligation if the player chooses to enroll.
Another perk? A player can sign an NLI with only one university. A player can sign a financial aid agreement with an unlimited number of universities and colleges.
As one college administrator told FOX Sports, "That’s where your college football free agency is. We’ve effectively signed a contract saying we’ll pay you this amount while watching you shop around. It’s a win for [the players]."
This arrangement is crucial during December and January, when the coaching carousel starts moving like a multimillion-dollar centrifuge. While Ohio State is the leader, Saban is there in the mix, and who says he couldn’t add another five-star to his bounty?
RJ Young is a national college football reporter for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young. Subscribe to The RJ Young Show on YouTube. He is not on a StepMill.