- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Looking back at the top Alabama players in the last decade, not every one was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. Much of the Crimson Tide’s success can be traced to more under-the-radar prospects who emerged once they got to Tuscaloosa. Every recruiting class has a hidden gem or two that succeeds beyond expectations.
We look back at the top five players who might not have been household names in high school but who went on to make a significant impact during their careers at Alabama.
LB DeMeco Ryans (Class of 2002)
Bessemer, Ala./Jess Lanier
Ryans grew up a huge Alabama fan, so it wasn’t surprising when he committed to the Tide. The surprising part was that he had just two other offers, from Mississippi State and UAB. He was relatively undersized coming out of high school, but UA fans are happy that former coach Dennis Franchione took a chance on him. Ryans started out as a special teams contributor, but he went on to become an All-American linebacker and was named the SEC defensive player of the year in 2005. He was the first pick of the second round in the 2006 NFL draft.
DB Rashad Johnson (Class of 2004)
Forget stars coming out of high school. Johnson had none. He didn’t have a single Division I scholarship offer when he graduated from Sulligent High School. He walked on at Alabama as a running back. After making his mark on special teams as a freshman, Johnson moved to safety, where he started four games as a sophomore. By the time he was a junior, he was a captain for Alabama, and he finished among the SEC leaders in interceptions. After his senior year, the former walk-on was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round of the 2009 draft.
DB Javier Arenas (Class of 2006)
Arenas committed to Florida Atlantic early in the recruiting process. It was his only offer, and it remained his only offer until Alabama jumped in late and stole him away with the intention of making him a return specialist. The plan worked. Arenas set the SEC record for career punt return touchdowns. But he did much more than that during his time in Tuscaloosa. Under the direction of Nick Saban, Arenas became one of the stars of Alabama’s 2009 defense and helped lead the Tide a national championship. He was a second-round pick in 2010.
DL Marcell Dareus (Class of 2008)
Looking back, it was Alabama’s 2008 recruiting class that served as the catalyst for the Tide’s recent success. The biggest gem in that class had to be Dareus, who was ranked No. 30 in the state of Alabama coming out of high school. The potential was there, but nobody expected him to have the success he had during his time at UA. As a true freshman, he suited up for the Tide’s opener against Clemson and never looked back. After just three years in Tuscaloosa, Dareus left early for the NFL and was taken No. 3 overall in the 2011 draft by the Buffalo Bills.
OL Chance Warmack (Class of 2009)
When Warmack was in high school, he never received an offer from Georgia, the in-state favorite. Had the Bulldogs offered, he might not be on this list. Instead, the three-star offensive guard ended up at Alabama, where he made 39 career starts and was a part of three national championship teams. Saban and his staff were the first to offer Warmack, which went a long way in securing his signature. They saw the potential in the 300-pound lineman, and it paid off. Warmack was taken No. 10 overall by the Tennessee Titans in April's draft.