Changing the game: Ingram, Class of '08

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was the shot across the bow. Nick Saban and the Alabama coaching staff made a statement with the class of 2008.

It was Saban's first full year recruiting as the head coach of the Crimson Tide, and what a stunning first impression it was. Not only did he haul in the No. 3 signing class in the country, but he went nationwide to do it, pulling a 2,000-yard running back from all the way up in Flint, Mich., by the name of Mark Ingram.

Saban drew on familiar ties to nab the 12th-ranked running back in the country, according to ESPN, swiping Ingram out from under the nose of Michigan State, where the now 61-year-old Saban held the second head coaching job of his career.

More than 800 miles separated Ingram from Tuscaloosa, and Alabama got in on the recruitment of the 5-foot-10, 200-pound athlete late in the game, too. Michigan State was thought to have the inside track, as Ingram was a Michigan State legacy with his father having been a star for the Spartans.

"Everyone assumed that I was a Michigan State lock, because my father went there and it was the home-state school," Ingram told Rivals.com at the time of his commitment. "I was always going to go my own path. ... Alabama, in the end, was just where I felt I would fit in best.

"I am positive this is the right decision. I am already looking forward to getting to Tuscaloosa and getting started. I have a chance to go in and make an immediate impact as a freshman."

And Ingram did. He rushed for 728 yards and 12 touchdowns, earning Freshman All-SEC honors in 2008. He would go on to win the Heisman Trophy the following season, helping Alabama to its first championship since 1992. The number of award-winning tailbacks since Ingram's signing have been numerous. Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon all opted to go the way of the Tide on signing day, following a path set by Ingram.

Lacy, like Ingram, came to Alabama from out of state. The Louisiana product spurned the home-state LSU Tigers on signing day, continuing what has become a national pipeline of recruits to Tuscaloosa.

Sure, Ingram was only the sixth-best recruit in the 2008 class. But the five before him all came from in-state. It was Ingram's commitment that opened the borders. In the four recruiting classes since, Saban and the Alabama coaching staff have signed more than half of their prospects from outside the state. In fact, none of the top six recruits in each of the last two classes have been from Alabama. Instead, it has been Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Georgia, Ohio and North Carolina filling UA's coffers.

As the Crimson Tide prepares for yet another title defense next fall, it will do so with the help of some of the top recruits in the country, not just Alabama or the Southeast. Saban has shown that to beat the best, sometimes you have to simply take their best. And with Ingram, he sent a message to the country that he's not afraid to step outside his own backyard.