Alabama football, national signing day: Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban not happy with stigma of grayshirting

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerFebruary 1, 2012 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban woke up Wednesday morning with a clear mind and a horizon free of surprises.

National signing day was to be as uneventful as last year’s was unpredictable. The Alabama football coach knew all 26 names that would make up the nation’s top signing class 48 hours before the rest of college football saw its late additions and subtractions.

A number of factors played into the relatively quiet signing day in Tuscaloosa. The new 25-scholarship limit imposed by the SEC topped the list.

“You couldn’t send out too many scholarships on a ‘maybe,’ ” Saban said. “If too many guys came here, we would have got penalized, so it worked out well from that standpoint. The fact that we had a lot of guys commit to us a long time ago and stick to those commitments was also a positive thing for us.”

The class was headlined by five-star safety Landon Collins from deep in LSU territory, former Auburn commitment T.J. Yeldon, and a long list of defensive prospects primed to replace the seven departing starters.

For everyone outside the Alabama football complex, there were a few unexpected moves.

The Tide picked up two uncommitted defensive linemen in the morning. Korren Kirven of Lynchburg, Va., chose Alabama over Virginia Tech and Tennessee before McDonough, Ga., native Dalvin Tomlinson picked the Tide over Georgia Tech and Georgia.

That left Saban’s roster two commitments heavy.

It also created a few interesting hours for Vigor defensive lineman Darius Philon. Once committed to Auburn, Philon chose Alabama back in September. But the Mobile Press-Register reported an uneasy Philon, wearing an Alabama cap, told a signing day audience he was undecided late Wednesday morning.

He ended up signing with Arkansas after teammates told the newspaper Alabama wanted him to grayshirt during the 2012 season.

Atlanta running back Justin Taylor reportedly faced the same option, sitting out a season, after previously committing to the Tide. He signed with Kentucky.

Saban said he “sort of resents” the “cynical attitude of a lot of people” towards coaches’ intentions when grayshirting players to meet the scholarship limit he opposed.

“We actually took some opportunities away from guys that really wanted to come to Alabama that we couldn’t sign,” Saban said. “And they couldn’t come here because we couldn’t offer that option to them. I don’t really see how that’s really good for the league, but it is what it is, and we’ll manage it in the future.

“They said they didn’t want anybody to oversign, but the fact of the matter is, if you only have 20 scholarships to give and you sign 25 guys, you’re still oversigning. But when you have a large class of seniors like we did and have a lot of scholarships available, it’s a little more difficult management.”

Alabama was able to ink 26 on Wednesday because there was one spot available to be back-counted to the last signing class.

Those who faxed paperwork to Tuscaloosa on Wednesday could go down as one of the more successful classes in memory. Recruiting services Rivals, 247sports, and ESPN rated the class No. 1 nationally while Scout ranked it a close second to Texas.

Alabama’s topped at least one of the major recruiting rankings in three of the four years since scoring the landmark class of 2008 in Saban’s second year.

Collins, who famously committed to Alabama to his mother’s disapproval on national television, was the last to send his paperwork early Wednesday afternoon.

Yeldon’s recruitment also had a dramatic streak. After being committed to Auburn, the five-star running back traded allegiances in mid-December.

He was one of eight signees who got a head start by enrolling last month.

The decision to swap one rival for the other was well thought out.

“I love Auburn,” the Daphne product said Wednesday. “It’s a great place. But, you know, I’ve always been an Alabama fan. It’s the place I always wanted to come.”

Alphonse Taylor grew up just a few miles away from Yeldon. He, too, struggled with decision -- committing to Florida State before landing at Alabama.

Why the Tide?

“I want to be part of the tradition,” the 6-6, 360-pound nose guard said. “I want to be a hometown hero. I’m from Mobile, Alabama. So why not come to the University of Alabama to play football?”

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