Nick Saban praises Alabama football's approach to virtual recruiting in signing nation's top class

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

What should have been Nick Saban’s hardest class to recruit may end up being his best.

The safety protocols and visitation restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have radically changed recruiting, with schools in some cases signing players who have never set foot on campus. To keep the recruiting process as all-encompassing as possible, Alabama's football coach enlisted help from all arms of the university to be involved in the virtual visits it put on for prospects.

The visits must have been convincing: UA’s 2021 class, finalized with two additions on Wednesday, was the best in the history of the 247Sports Composite rankings.

“I think what everybody did is they adapted extremely well to the circumstance that we were in,” Saban said. “We turned in what would have been official visits and camps and all those things into virtual reality so to speak in terms of how we managed, how we developed relationships ... We recruit as a team here, so a lot of coaches did a great job, a lot of people in the university community chipped in and helped us with academic interviews and so forth even though they weren’t here.”

With the exception of the medium of communication — over a computer as opposed to in-person — Saban said members of the recruiting process did what they would typically do on a recruiting visit, including the academic, medical and strength and conditioning staffs. 

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“We also included the families in virtual practice. We included them in virtual medical meetings, virtual strength and conditioning, academics, academic appointments,” Saban said. “Is it better in person? Yeah, I’d much rather have personal relationships and be able to have people visit us and show hospitality and they get a chance to meet more people, not just the person who are actually Zooming with them. But we had a lot of people contribute in trying to do that in a lot of ways, including our players in some cases.”

In several cases, the relationships they built were enough to secure recruitments in the closing days and weeks. It held a commitment from five-star running back Camar Wheaton despite heavy interest from Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M in the closing weeks, and won the race for four-star defensive back Terrion Arnold over Georgia and Florida on Wednesday.

In the December signing period, it flipped four-star wide receiver JoJo Earle and edge defender Keanu Koht from LSU on signing day.

“We adapted well and I think that that is reflected in what kind of class we had,” Saban said.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson