TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama is making a habit out of winning national titles both on and off the field. And their correlation is no secret. The process, as coach Nick Saban often describes it, is in full swing on the Tuscaloosa campus. It starts with laying a foundation.
In other words, it begins with recruiting.
On Wednesday, the defending champion Crimson Tide secured the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for the second year in a row, beating out Florida and Ohio State for the distinction of obtaining college football's most talented crop of recruits. Alabama signed a total of 25 prospects to national letters of intent, 18 of which ranked among the ESPN 300.
Alabama is the only school to finish with a top-three class in each of the past six years.
But for Saban, signing day was about more than rankings or outside evaluations. Frankly, he said, he put little stock in the opinions of others outside his office. To his way of thinking, signing day was about seeing more than a year of work on the recruitment trail in the form of signatures rolling off an archaic fax machine, ensuring the bank of top-tier talent at Alabama won't soon run dry.
"Signing day is the culmination of a lot of hard work," he said.
The next step, though, is the most difficult: getting the prospects to turn into players.
"Just because you get the puppy dog with the biggest feet doesn't mean he'll grow up to be the best hunting dog," the hard-nosed coach was quick to point out.
The paws on the Crimson Tide's newest crop of recruits do leave something to the imagination, though. Thirteen of Alabama's signees were ranked among the top 10 at their respective positions. Derrick Henry, Alabama's lone five-star commitment, was the No. 1 athlete in the country. He'll likely play running back for Saban, though he has the skills to play either H-back or linebacker.
Their most high-profile signee might be Reuben Foster. The No. 1-rated inside linebacker in the ESPN 150 had a recruitment that can best be described as a melodrama. He verbally committed to Alabama before his junior year at Troupe County High in Georgia, moved to Auburn, Ala., and subsequently flipped his commitment to the in-state Tigers -- and had a tattoo of their logo put on his arm. But after Auburn coach Gene Chizik and his staff were fired, Foster reopened his recruitment and on Wednesday signed with Alabama.
Saban, who defended the enigmatic linebacker, said he wouldn't have liked to imagine what his recruitment would have looked like when he was 17 or 18 years old. The 61-year-old head coach blamed the newfound celebrity of recruits and the media for creating a circus-like atmosphere.
"We really think Reuben is a good person, and Reuben has a good heart," Saban said. "He's certainly a good football player, but I think that he really felt bad in some way, maybe by the way he handled his recruiting."
Foster tweeted an apology to Alabama fans for the way he handled his recruitment following his signing ceremony earlier in the day. He said he was a "brat" and he hoped the fan base would "accept" him.
"Some of these things that turn out to be or appear to be not good qualities actually can be very good qualities if channeled in the right direction," Saban said. "I think Reuben came here because he wanted the structure. He wants to get it right. He wants to do things the right way, and we want to help him do that. I think he's got the right heart and the right character to do it."
Foster was one of seven in-state recruits to sign with Alabama. A total of 17 others from 12 different states crossed borders to play for the back-to-back national champion.
Robert Foster, the No. 2 wide receiver in the country from Pennsylvania, spurned nearby Pittsburgh to give his verbal commitment to Alabama months before signing day.
Jonathan Allen, the third-ranked defensive end, signed with Alabama over in-state Virginia and Virginia Tech.
The nationwide effort, Saban said, was thanks to the access the Internet has provided scouting departments. Rather than limiting knowledge to recruits within driving distance, schools can search out kids from coast to coast with the click of a mouse. The rest is making a call and convincing the recruit you're worth his time.
"If you had to do all this by getting out in a car and running around like I used to when I was recruited, you could never figure out who the best players in Oklahoma or Nebraska or California or any place far away would be," Saban said. "But now with so much information, it's not so hard to identify. So you can go specifically to evaluate and see a particular player some place that may be a little far away.
"We feel like our state is really important, and we feel like we've done a great job in the five-hour radius, but we feel like it's really important to do a good job over the top in terms of knowing who the best players are, and which one of those players have some interest in Alabama."
Alvin Kamara, the four-star running back who would push Alabama from No. 3 to No. 1 in the class rankings late in the day, said there's a different vibe to Tuscaloosa and the program Saban has built. The product of Norcross, Ga., said he liked the home-state Georgia Bulldogs well enough, but it was hard not to go to a school with Alabama's reputation.
"There is definitely a difference in the culture in Tuscaloosa and Athens," Kamara told ESPN after his televised signing. "At Alabama, they expect greatness and they achieve greatness, and that is the single reason why I chose to sign with the Tide."