It’s the annual tradition that serves as a recruiting pitch as much as it is a celebration of Alabama football players choosing to chase their dreams. The message is simple: If you come to Alabama and are good enough, we’ll get you to the NFL.

Of course, that’s not the overt message Nick Saban and five undergraduate players delivered Thursday afternoon when it was announced that Minkah Fitzpatrick, Bo Scarbrough, Ronnie Harrison, Calvin Ridley and Da’Ron Payne were entering their names into the 2018 NFL Draft. But the feeling hung in the air at the press conference, and Saban touted his program’s success at helping underclassmen reach the NFL.

“We’ve had 25 guys go out early for the draft since 2009: 14 of them have been first-round picks, eight of them have been second-round picks, one of them was a third-round pick,” Saban said.

Of the five to announce Thursday, Fitzpatrick, Ridley and Payne are widely projected as first-round selection. Harrison said he received a second-round draft grade and Scarbrough elected not to release his draft grade. Ridley and Payne did not attend the press conference because both were out of town.

The juniors declaring early from the 2015 recruiting class leave Tuscaloosa with two SEC Championships, two national championships and three consecutive trips to the College Football Playoff.  It’s a legacy their proud to leave and have continued.

“When we first came in, we wanted to win off the back, and we did freshman year,” Harrison said. “It was just a culture we created around here. It’s great that we are going out like this.”

Harrison made his mark

Harrison isn’t the most likely success story. He came to Alabama from Tallahassee, Fla., and didn’t hold an offer from the in-town Florida State Seminoles. But he came in and made his mark right away, earning playing time in the secondary as a safety. He exits as one of the best safety prospects in the country.

He spoke of that, the reality that he wasn’t one of the five-star players sought around the country much like Fitzpatrick.

“…as a recruit coming out of high school, I wasn’t too highly recruited or whatever, but just having the opportunity to come to Alabama and being able to play for championships, and being able to play around great guys like Bo and Minkah, and being able to be coached by Coach Saban and the other coaches on the coaching staff, that’s just a blessing for me,” Harrison said. “It taught me a lot and really changed me as a man inside and out.”

Harrison said he grew up a fan of the Atlanta Falcons because of cornerback Deion Sanders. And Harrison has a little “Primetime” in him too, evidenced by the oversized gold No. 15 he wears around his neck.

He leaves the secondary, especially the safeties, in good hands, he says, because of the end-of-the-season emergence of his best friend Deionte Thompson.

“I think the secondary is going to be one to watch,” he said. “…there’s guys like Deionte, who is going to step up, Shyheim Carter going to step up, Trevon Diggs, he’s played before. You have guys that have that potential to be that next great group.”

Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0229.

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