- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- As it turned out, 2008 was just the beginning. Alabama's 2009 signing class was one step ahead for Nick Saban and the coaching staff as it finished No. 2 in the country, highlighted by the likes of Dre Kirkpatrick, Trent Richardson, AJ McCarron and Eddie Lacy.
But those were just the headliners. Like many of the recruiting classes to come in the years since, the 2009 class was solid top to bottom. Chance Warmack, Anthony Steen and James Carpenter were all ranked in the second half of the class. Kevin Norwood, Darrington Sentimore and Quinton Dial also came out of the lower half of the class to become playmakers at the college level.
There's no doubt, though, who the star of the class was. Richardson, the No. 1 running back from Pensacola, Fla. in the country, was stolen right out from under the Florida Gators' nose. The 5-foot-11, 219-pound athlete was an instant impact player, rushing for more than 700 yards as a true freshman. Two seasons later he was in New York City as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. A few months after that, he was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns.
He joined Kirkpatrick, who was ranked just two spots ahead of Richardson in the ESPN 150, as one of four first-round picks that year. Kirkpatrick, Richardson and Carpenter all turned pro early, leaving much of the impact of the 2009 class on the table this past season.
"A lot of the guys that were originally in this class are no longer here because we've had quite a few draft picks and that type of thing," Saban said, somewhat lamenting a problem many college football coaches would like to have. "This class has done a fantastic job of representing the University of Alabama and representing our program. They've contributed to a large degree the leadership and success that we've had in this organization and I think it's great to recognize them."
Alabama's senior class was nothing short of historic. The past four years have brought 49 wins, three national championships and two SEC titles. Nico Johnson, Ed Stinson and the rest of the 2009 class built upon what came the season before when Julio Jones, Courtney Upshaw and Mark Ingram became a part of Saban's first full signing class at Alabama. Together, they woke up the sleeping giant that was the Crimson Tide football program and opened up the floodgates for the signing classes that followed, allowing Saban to accomplish what no other college coach has since 2008 -- finishing in the top three of the class rankings year in and year out.