Alabama didn’t need a wide net to drag in its haul on National Signing Day on Wednesday. The race to finish 2019’s signing class could have been done better with a rod and reel.
The recruiting race for the last month netted Alabama three more signees in addition to the 24 it began the day with. The Crimson Tide finished with another No. 1-ranked class. Rather than spending the last six weeks trying to hold on to its class, Alabama focused in on its final targets and spent more time with 2020 prospects.
“If we’re only recruiting a handful of guys, which we may have been recruiting 8-10 guys to get 3-4 guys, you spend most of your time going around looking at juniors, looking at next year’s class,” coach Nick Saban said. “So, this has become a little bit more like spring recruiting, even though you can’t evaluate the players other than in the weight room if you see them lifting weights because they’re not in spring practice at this time, for the most part.”
That was a shift even from last year. Alabama’s 2018 class included 15 players who signed in December 2017, then five more in February.
Running back Keilan Robinson and defensive lineman Byron Young, both committed to Alabama when the day began, signed as expected. Alabama lost two players who had made verbal commitments early in the day when defensive lineman Khris Bogle flipped to Florida and defensive back Christian Williams signed with Miami.
The day’s biggest win came with a commitment from Louisiana defensive tackle Ishmael Sopsher. His decision came down to Alabama and LSU, and he felt significant pressure to remain in-state.
“Most of what we did in January was really about next year’s recruiting, the 2020 class,” Saban said. “Basically, two of the three guys that we signed today were committed to us before, so the coaches did a really good job of keeping those guys in the fold. I do think there was probably a player or two out there that, because of the relationship change from the coach that was recruiting them to the new coach, may have been a little bit of a problem for them because those relationships are really, really important.”
One of those misses may have been California linebacker Henry To’oto’o. He had been a top target for Alabama and was recruited by former defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi, who graduated from To’oto’o’s high school. Lupoi left after the season to be defensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns.
ESPN and 247Sports ranked Alabama’s class No. 1 in the nation; Rivals ranked the Crimson Tide second. Georgia topped its team rankings for the second straight year.
Saban said the program may continue to look for additions on the transfer market, including an experienced tight end. The class is mostly complete, though.
“We were really fortunate this year to satisfy a lot of the needs that we have,” he said. “Having 15 early enrollees that are here right now is going to really be helpful to their development and to how they can contribute to our team next year. I think it’s easier for those guys to get socially and academically acclimated to the University because they don’t have as much time commitment in football.”
The work has already started for 2020. Since the early signing date on Dec. 19, Alabama has been focusing on a much smaller pool of prospects to finish this class while beginning to look ahead. The Crimson Tide had 10 commits for the class of 2020 already on Wednesday, the most of any school in the nation.
“(The early signing date) has changed the dynamics of what you do in January,” Saban said. “It’s also changed the dynamic of what you do in December because now everything’s sandwiched into a short period of time. You’ve got more to do. You play in the SEC Championship Game, you lose one-third of the time that you have to recruit in December and you have two weeks where you can recruit and you’re getting ready for a game and the signing date and you’re out there practicing the same day as the signing date. So, it’s changed all those dynamics, as well.”
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