TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Around this time last year, Nick Saban took the podium to recap the 2013 national signing day, but said he was already looking ahead to 2014.
At the time, many laughed it off as Saban being Saban, but it turned out to be foreshadowing.
That laser focus, among other things, helped the Crimson Tide clinch its four consecutive No. 1 recruiting class. ESPN, 247Sports, Rivals.com and Scout all ranked the Tide's class as the best by a pretty significant margin.
So Saban's beaming smile from ear to ear on Wednesday showed signs of both happiness and a sense of relief as another stellar class was signed, sealed and delivered and 19 prospects were officially heading to Tuscaloosa in the summer to join the eight that began classes in January.
"I think the biggest thing is this day is really an accumulation of a lot of hard work and a lot of time spent by a whole bunch of people," Saban said during his signing day news conference. "We recruit as a team here. A lot of people make a great contribution to that team. We're very pleased and happy with the character and quality of the people that we're able to attract here as well as the ability they have academically and athletically."
Heading into signing day, the Tide's class was pretty much intact. Alabama maintained every commit except one and many expected it to be a quiet day for the Tide.
Instead, Alabama made the biggest splash of the day with Auburn High five-star linebacker Rashaan Evans picking the Tide over Auburn.
By picking the Tide, Evans followed in the footsteps of current Tide linebacker Reuben Foster, who Evans said was a big part of his recruitment. Saban was asked about the Tide's success rate of pulling kids from Auburn's back yard.
"As soon as Rashaan committed to us, Reuben Foster called me and absolutely said that he was a much better recruiter than I was and he was really responsible for that," Saban said. "So maybe you should ask him that question."
Only this one was different. Both of Evans' parents attended Auburn University, he grew up in Auburn and was long considered an Auburn lean.
But as the old saying goes, anything can happen on signing day.
"I really don't think it makes a lot of difference where a guy's from," Saban said. "What we try to focus on here is the opportunity that a young man has here, and sometimes guys are just a little better fit for what they're looking for, maybe what the critical factors of development that they might have through their college career and how they can contribute in a program that makes
one place a little better than the other.
"I don't think it's really anything about where you're from, but I do think that we're excited to have both of them here."
Along with Auburn High, Alabama showed it can pull prospects from any part of the country with its reach stretching across 15 states. By position, the Tide added six offensive linemen, six defensive linemen, four defensive backs, two quarterbacks, two wide receivers, one athlete, one tight end and one punter.
"I think the important thing to have in this kind of recruiting class, which we feel sort of satisfies the needs we have," Saban said. "I'm sure that every coach that stands up here today and talks about their recruiting class, I've never heard anybody say they've had a bad class. I've never heard anybody not say they didn't identify their needs. So I'm going to say the same thing. We had a good class and we sort of identified our needs. I think the key to that is that we satisfied our needs because we identified those needs early on in the recruiting process and evaluated the players we thought fit in best for what we want to do. I think that we did a good job of going out and getting a lot of those players."
On paper, this class meets every need. Alabama's offensive line was inconsistent in 2013, so the Tide added the nation's top offensive tackle, the top two centers and the top JUCO offensive tackle.
Alabama was never able to settle on a second cornerback last season, so the Tide signed two of the nation's best cornerbacks, both of which have elite speed.
Alabama lost its three-year starting quarterback, so the Tide signed a transfer from Florida State and one of the top pocket passers out of high school. Alabama's pass rush was almost none existent at time and the defensive line lost two starters. So the Tide brought in the nation's top strongside defensive end and two JUCO prospect with the ability to contribute early. Oh, and don't forget the punter.
Every need meet. Rarely a stone unturned.
"We thought we needed linemen on both sides of the ball. We felt we were a little thin last year in both of those areas," Saban said. "Quarterback, obviously, is a critical position in any program and we're very excited about the two young men we have coming in to those positions. We were thin in the secondary last year. We felt like we got some really good players at that position. One of the goals we have was to get a little more fast-twitch, quicker body type guys to play on the edges for us. We're playing against a lot more spread. I feel between the outside backer types we got as well as some of the more athletic kind of defensive ends we got that maybe we satisfied that need as well. We also needed a punter and we feel good about the punter we were able to attract in this class."
Saban thanked everyone from the assistant coaches to the administration to the fans. But the players in this class may deserve the biggest round of applause. At All-Star, on social media and visits to Tuscaloosa, multiple players put in the effort to help recruit other top players to Tuscaloosa and it paid off.
For the players, it was all about being apart of a great class.
"It's amazing. You look at this class and what we've done," quarterback David Cornwell, one of eight early enrollees. "(We were) just in there talking about it. I didn't know how elite it was. All our hard work has come down to this. Coaches have done a great job; really taught some of the recruits how to go out and do it ourselves. Really appreciate that from the coaches. Great experience."
With that experience, a common goal of winning championships has developed.
"We're a real close class. Everybody pretty much already knew each other," said early enrollee linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton. "A lot of recruits took their officials in January so we did a lot of hanging out that weekend. We're a real close class and we plan on winning a lot of championships."
Some analysts have gone as far as to say this is the best recruiting class of all time. While Saban doesn't do comparisons, the 2008 class has a special place in his heart and the 2014 group has a few years before they can think about replacing it.
"Probably the class that I remember the most was the very first class that we had here when we had a full recruiting cycle after our first season, when Julio Jones and Mark Barron and a lot of those guys came," Saban said. "Because I can tell you now that you can take that class and say how many guys got drafted, how many guys had great careers. They actually all proved that they were a great recruiting class. They had great team success here, won a national championship, and came here when this was not the sexy place to be. We were 7-6. So I guess that class is the one that's closest to my heart, all right, because those guys bought in when they just believed that we were going to be able to be successful and they could make a great contribution to helping us be successful. That class really did.
"And I'm not making any comparisons to any classes, but I really do feel that the character of this class, as well as the ability of this class, I think I'm very pleased with. I will say that."