Book excerpt: Decade of Dominance

Christopher Walsh

"Decade of Dominance," Christopher Walsh's 26th book, is due to be released Tuesday and will be available in most places where books are sold and both on the Internet throughout the state. To order directly using check, credit card, PayPal or Venmo, email Tom Brew at

Another option is to attend one of the following book signings this week:

  • July 9: The University of Alabama Supply Store 1-4 p.m.; 751 Campus Drive West, Ferguson Center, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
  • July 9: Barnes & Noble, Tuscaloosa 5-8 p.m.; 1800 McFarland Blvd E., Tuscaloosa, AL 35405
  • July 10: Barnes & Noble, Birmingham 12-3 p.m.; 201 Summit Blvd. Birmingham, AL 35243
  • July 10: Barnes & Noble, Hoover 5-8 p.m.; 171 Main Street, Hoover, AL 35244

The Signing Class That Started It All

On February 6, 2008, otherwise known as National Signing Day, a different sort of scene was on display on the other side of the state.

Jerrell Harris, a linebacker who was considered one of the top prospects in the nation, was at the heart of a ceremony in the jam-packed Gadsden City High School auditorium. Before him were hats representing his finalists for where he would play college football, including Auburn, Clemson, Southern California and Tennessee.

However, he didn’t pick up any of them.

Instead, he explained to those on hand that there was really only “one hat for him” and the room erupted with cheers and applause when a Bear Bryant-style houndstooth hat was surprisingly pulled out from under the podium. Harris, one of the biggest names in that program’s history, was staying home to play for the Crimson Tide.

"Coach Saban knows how to recruit and how to make a player feel wanted,” Harris told reporters that day. “He is building a championship class at Alabama, and I wanted to be a part of that.

"The recruits Coach Saban has coming to Tuscaloosa are on a mission. We are going to win a national championship. You can bet on that."

Thus capped the recruiting class of 2008, which some consider to be the greatest collection of college football prospects in Alabama history, perhaps one of the best ever. The debate still goes on.

“It was a great class,” said offensive lineman Barrett Jones, one of the most decorated athletes in college football history.

Although Saban was hired before the previous National Signing Day, he had only a month to hire a coaching staff, evaluate the program from top to bottom, prioritize needs and piece together A recruiting class. He more than pulled it off, but regarding the latter there was only so much he could do.

Consequently, 2008 was his first full class at Alabama, and which would not only established the standard for all Crimson Tide recruiting, but set the tone for years to come.

“A lot of power,” junior linebacker Dont’a Hightower later said was the first thing to come to mind about the Class of 2008. “Coach Saban said this class means a lot. We helped build up this program and be the foundation. A lot of guys had been through the bad our freshman year going to the Sugar Bowl with Utah.

“We’ve been through the good … We’ve had a lot of great guys come through like Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Marcell Dareus, Mark Barron, and Robert Lester.

“I feel like that recruiting class was really special.”

In addition to having the program’s first Heisman Trophy winner, five went on to be named consensus All-Americans and one an Academic All-American. Over the subsequent years five players would be first-round draft picks.

Collectively, they re-wrote record books, led the conference in multiple individual categories and some are considered Crimson Tide legends.

“Terrence Cody was in that class too,” Barrett Jones said about the massive two-time All-American. “We had a lot of guys.”

In addition to the initial headliners were numerous players who also made contributions, including tight end Brad Smelley, defensive end Damion Square, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, and tight end Michael Williams. In 2011, after Ingram and Jones had already left early for the NFL, Alabama had 19 starters return, including a pair of team captains with Barron and Hightower, and 20 seniors.

It meant things like three of Alabama’s prize starting linebackers all went through the entire process from the start.

“We came in together and we hit it off,” Hightower said. “We worked out together, ran at the same time. We had that tight bond that a lot of people didn’t have even though we came from two different states.

“It’s great playing with Courtney.”