It was no real surprise when 4-star offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher committed to the University of Iowa in January. Born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa, it seemed like the hometown thing to do. But eight months later something changed, and the 6-foot-4, 290-pound teenager switched his commitment to the University of Alabama, while in the eyes of everyone but Bama- another one “bit the dust.”
Pierschbacher is one of many hometown “heroes” with football talent buying into futures far from home. Alabama currently has the second ranked recruiting class of 2014 and just in June, the Tide solidified four new offensive line commitments for the 2014 class- all of them from outside the state.
JC Hassenauer- From Minnesota
Viane Talamaivao- From California
Montel McBride- From Florida
Dominick Jackson- From California
Now, per coach Nick Saban’s “process”, commitments are not supposed to automatically assume they will be winners simply for showing up. So what makes them take the bait, and keep coming?
Is it Scott Cochran and his new indoor training facility?
Or is it the number of National Championships that belong to the Capstone?
With 15 total and 3 in the past 4 years, it’s definitely a huge plus.
But it’s not just about National Championships anymore.
Playing for the University of Alabama is a degree in winning and a modern day NFL factory. For those who want to continue to the next level of the sport, Alabama has become the higher institute of learning for the pro-oriented.
The ripple of Alabama’s tide reaches almost every NFL team with a working whistle in America. There are 42 Alabama players currently on NFL teams. For a state with no pro team, it sure seems like Bama is making a league of their own, but while 42 seems like an impressive number, when standings are considered, Alabama ranks 9th in number of NFL players by college.
Get ready for the salt in the wound… The top nine go like this:
1.) LSU – 54 players
2.) Miami, (Fla.) – 53 players
3.) USC (Southern California) – 52 players
4.) Georgia and Ohio State tie – 48 players
6.) Florida State – 45 players
7.) Texas and California tie – 43 players
9.) Alabama – 42 players
If you’re wondering why Alabama isn’t number one, because it sure seems like they’d be, the answer is exciting but simple; Alabama is just beginning their NFL surge- as in about 80 percent of Alabama’s current 42 players have come to the NFL just the past five years. In other words- Bama is building their army.
As the number of Alabama players grow in the NFL so to does Alabama’s grid of networking. Position by position, it’s clear in Saban’s era that a strong emphasis has been placed on leadership and mentoring the man that comes after you.
Look no further than the running backs. Mark Ingram has always boasted about Trent Richardson, and Richardson has said Ingram was always there coaching him from the sidelines.
But perhaps the best moment to see the power of this fraternity was in 2010 when Eddie Lacy fumbled the ball against San Jose State. The fumble was recovered by San Jose and as Lacy headed off the field, Nick Saban was already gunning for him, his fury felt a football field away. As Lacy took off his helmet and shook his head in disappointment, BOTH Ingram and Richardson rushed to Lacy’s side, shielding him from their angry coach. At one point Ingram actually turns Saban away saying, “we got this.” They sat Lacy down and spoke to him. No one knows exactly what they said, but Lacy nodded each time they counseled him, a hand from each of them heavy on his shoulder.
That power of potent leadership is a recruiting tool like nothing else. It says, here are your brothers, they want to help you be better. Even Alabama’s newest commitment, wide receiver Cameron Sims says he noticed the family feel when he visited Tuscaloosa.
“The players, they felt like brothers,” he said during an interview with ESPNU after his Crimson Tide announcement. “It really just felt like home so when I went there, Kenny Bell and Denzel, they just embraced me and they just thought I was one of their brothers.”
When these players leave college to pursue the sport at the next level, they are not only taking with them the knowledge and experience instilled in them from Nick Saban, staff, and their fellow players, but they are also taking the mental experience created by living and playing in an intense college football environment.
When someone in Alabama says, “I don’t know much about football” that means they can still tell you the quarterbacks and head coaches of both Alabama and Auburn, and usually have a good ability to recognize all SEC head coaches by picture. If you ever have a question about that you can call up ‘Mama O’, the 76-year-old woman who has to walk with a cane and an oxygen tank, but in the line for the bank teller she’ll ask what you think about Bama’s offense this year.
Everything about T-Town is a lesson for players because all attention is on them. Eyes are friendly and smiles are big and plenty in the direction of these players simply because they represent the life force of this southern place. When a college player grows up in an environment like Tuscaloosa it can be a very tough but rewarding experience. Players get noticed, temptation is everywhere, everyone wants to ask them about the team, the play, the game. Old men with their eyes still glistening from glory days of the past will tell them what they think is best, and current players have to nod their head and say ‘yes sir’, and ‘I’ll try that sir’ every step of the way.
If you lose, as a player, the town, and much of the state falls into a slumber of moderate depression. “They should have done this”, or “they could have done that” fill conversations while fans rub their foreheads as if the loss has physically taken something from their well-being.
Immediately, hundreds of people start strategizing for next game. Whether they played college ball, high school back up or have just watched “a lot of football”, everyone seems to have a right to a college football opinion in the land of champions. And that is why they are the land of champions.
It is not easy learning football here with thousands of critics. But it is with out doubt the most rewarding places to thrive (just look at the rings to prove it). Yet even more than bling, players live on in hearts of men and women who lived and breathed with them using a passion that seldom flourishes elsewhere.
I know this firsthand because its a passion other people don’t seem to want. To other parts of the country, loving something inanimate like a team to this extent is looked down upon. Other people even chuckle at it. But each Monday, those unsuspecting people in other parts of the nation, that don’t know this passion firsthand, get up and they live their lives like Saturday is just another day, while southern hearts are still reeling or celebrating the weekend’s triumphs and tribulations as clocks countdown to the next kick off. Because here, everyday life is Alabama football.
It is not about National Championships here and perhaps, it never truly was. Maybe, it’s about taking Alabama to the highest it can go, and right now, that’s looking like creating a fraternity of NFL players who can call their roots, crimson.
And that’s why for those players it had to be Alabama, it always had to be.