How does Alabama convince so many juniors to return as seniors?
While many top-level college football programs, including Clemson and Ohio State, routinely deal with juniors leaving for the NFL draft, Alabama consistently retains a good portion of its top players for their senior seasons.
How is it that coach Nick Saban and his staff are able to convince players to return? USA TODAY’s Dan Wolken explored that topic ahead of the Crimson Tide’s matchup against Washington in the Peach Bowl, which will be played on New Year’s Eve.
Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said it comes down to former players having success by staying for their senior seasons and relaying that information to younger players:
“Guys who’ve been at Alabama, the former players, they tell the guys to stay as long as you can,” defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said. “Obviously sometimes from a business standpoint you have to make a decision, but I think that has something to do with it.
“I think it starts with the environment. Kids have fun. They believe in what’s going on. I asked Jonathan Allen, ‘Why did you decide to come back?’ And he looked right at me and he said, ‘I trusted (Saban). I got to where I’m at by doing the things he said and believing in him and what goes on here and he got the information I needed and I trust him.’”
Though Saban knows how it looks when a coach who makes $7 million a year tells players they should come back to play for him for free, he said he does try to get them to look at their draft decisions like businessmen:
“I think the biggest thing we try to do with our players is we try to get them to make a quality business decision,” Saban said. “You can’t improve your value once you get in the draft. It is what it is, and what a lot of people don’t realize is everybody wants you to come out for the draft, but once you say you’re in the draft every team looks for reasons not to draft you.”
Key Alabama juniors facing a tough decision this season include DL Da’Shawn Hand, WR ArDarius Stewart, P JK Scott, LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB Rashaan Evans, OL Cam Robinson and OL Bradley Bozeman.
However, other than Cam Robinson, who will likely be a first-round pick if he declares for the draft, the junior class will most likely benefit from playing one more year in Tuscaloosa.