COVID-19 Pandemic Couldn't Stop Alabama Football From Winning Recruiting Title in 2021

Nick Saban shares his thoughts on his No. 1 recruiting class and how his program adapted during COVID-19

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — On the field, the University of Alabama is the reigning college football national champions. 

Off of it, well, the Crimson Tide is king there, too.

The program saw it ink two more highly-coveted prospects, running back Camar Wheaton and defensive back Terrion Arnold, on Wednesday to its historic 2021 recruiting class that includes 27 members.

Alabama's class finished No. 1 in every major recruiting services' team rankings, including Sports Illustrated All-American, 247Sports, ESPN, and Rivals.

For 247Sports and Rivals, it is the highest-rated group in those respective websites' history.

A year ago at this time, the Crimson Tide had one lone pledge in in-state linebacker Deontae Lawson. Fast forward 12 months and not even a pandemic could stop Alabama from winning the mythical recruiting crown. 

Due to COVID-19, everything in the world went virtual — Zoom, FaceTime, you name it. No in-person official visits for prospects and coaches couldn't hit the trail to visit any high schools. 

Alabama couldn't host any camps this past summer either, in order to get physical eyes on prospects. 

Being able to adapt was key to the Crimson Tide's success on the recruiting trail according to coach Nick Saban.

"We’re obviously very excited to have two additional guys to add to the class of people who signed in December," Saban told the media on Wednesday evening. "It’s an cumulation of a lot of hard work by a lot of people in a very different circumstance. But I think what everybody did is they adapted extremely well to the circumstance that we were in. 

"We turned in what would have been official visits and camps and all those things into virtual reality so to speak in terms of how we managed, how we developed relationships, the time we spent with the players that we recruited and the relationships that we were able to develop. We recruit as a team here so a lot of coaches did a great job, a lot of people in the university community chipped in and helped us with academic interviews and so forth even though they weren’t here. We did them virtually. Our academic staff here at the university, the strength and conditioning, the medical staff. 

"Everybody did what they would on a normal visit, they did it virtually. And I think that process really helped us, that adaptation really helped us develop relationships with players so that we could have the kind of recruiting class that we had. We always try to define what our expectations are, what our needs are in every recruiting year. And for the most part, we were able to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish with this recruiting class."

The current NCAA dead period runs until at least April 15 as of now, so Saban and company will have keep using virtual measures for the classes of 2022 and 2023. 

But with all signs pointing to spring football actually happening this year, Saban hopes that recruiting will get back to normalcy as well.

“I think using virtual Zoom, whatever you want to call it, to do home visits is something that was very beneficial to myself and the assistant coaches in terms of developing relationships with the families," Saban added. "We also included the families in virtual practice. We included them in virtual medical meetings, virtual strength and conditioning, academics, academic appointments. So, this was our only means to be able to adapt, too. So, is it better in person? Yeah, I’d much rather have personal relationships and be able to have people visit us and show hospitality and they get a chance to meet more people, not just the person who is actually Zooming with them. 

"But we had a lot of people contribute in trying to do that in a lot of ways, including our players in some cases. Look, nothing’s better than being in person, but we adapted and did what we had to do the best we could do it and I think a lot of people did a really good of that. Now, do we implement some of these things in the future? Absolutely. Does that mean they should replace personal relationships? I don’t think so.”