How Nick Saban stole National Signing Day

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Nick Saban is the Grinch who stole football.

The University of Alabama’s head coach has taken the mystery out of National Signing Day.

Highly touted quarterback recruit Tua Tagovailoa speaks to the media during a press conference announcing the number one recruiting class in America at the University of Alabama Wednesday, February 1, 2017. Tagovailoa is one of the players who took advantage of early enrollment. Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.

By the time it rolled around on Wednesday, the Crimson Tide had all but locked up another No. 1-ranked recruiting class.

By mid-afternoon, it was obvious that UA’s signing class would not only be tops, but would end up unanimously rated as the best by every national recruiting service. It marked the eighth year in a row that at least one such service has rated Alabama’s class No. 1.

And it may be the best of them all.

UA signed seven five-star prospects – only Southern Cal has ever landed more, with eight in 2004 – and four of the top 25 in the Rivals.com rankings. The 21 ESPN300 signees are the most in any signing class, ever.

“This is a class that we’re very pleased with and proud of,” Saban said. “This day is the accumulation of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. It starts out with the entire team of people that we have here at Alabama, but most specifically our coaching staff. This day is an accumulation of all the way back, in some cases, two and three years, where you evaluate guys and start to develop relationships with them. Our coaching staff did a phenomenal job in evaluation, in developing relationships and working hard to attract some of these guys here.”

The drama that usually surrounds the day when high school prospects sign with colleges was at a minimum this year. In fact, a dozen incoming freshmen were already on campus and enrolled in classes, including the nation’s No. 1-rated overall player – running back Najee Harris – along with Alex Leatherwood, the No. 1-rated tackle, and Dylan Moses, the No. 2 outside linebacker.

“Coach Saban put together a remarkable class which may be his best during his tenure in Tuscaloosa,” said Tidesports.com recruiting analyst Andrew Bone. “He has seven five-stars and 18 four-stars. Alabama met needs on each side of the ball.

“The most impressive part of the class is signing top players at key positions where Alabama lost elite recruiting coaches like Mario Cristobal, Billy Napier and Bo Davis.”

There were four big uncommitted names on Alabama’s board going into the day, and the Crimson Tide landed three of them: four-star defensive lineman LaBryan Ray of Madison, the state’s top prospect, four-star wideout Henry Ruggs of Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery and four-star wideout DeVonta Smith of Amite, La. Ray picked Alabama over Tennessee and Florida, Ruggs stayed in state after a strong push by Florida State and Smith chose UA over LSU.

UA missed on five-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon of Leesburg, Ga., who chose Michigan over Alabama and Georgia.

On the eve of signing day, Alabama landed an important commitment from Phidarian Marks, a four-star defensive tackle from Monroe, La., who picked UA over LSU and TCU, giving the Crimson Tide an important pick-up at a key position.

Alabama stockpiled so much talent in this class that four-star defensive end Jarez Parks of Sebastian, Fla., agreed to delay enrollment to play at Alabama, so he doesn’t even count as part of the 2017 signing class. He elected to wait a year to play at UA despite reports that Auburn, Miami and others reached out to him after he pushed back his announcement to later in the day.

Two other important commitments, kicker Joseph Bulovas and lineman Hunter Brannon, are expected to enroll for the fall but also don’t count as 2017 signees.

When it was all said and done, Saban and Alabama didn’t leave much for the rest of the country’s programs to divide among themselves.

He’s a mean one, Mr. Grinch.