TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — With the University of Alabama football team set to play Fresno State for the first time in program history Saturday, it’s interesting to note the Crimson Tide features players from the Golden State.
Sophomore left tackle Jonah Williams grew up in Georgia, but he spent his last three years of high school in Folsom, Calif., near Sacramento. Freshman running back Najee Harris hails from Antioch (near Oakland) and reserve offensive lineman Elliot Baker is from the San Francisco area.
If they tried to drive home, it would be 2,300-plus miles, with the directions of go to Dallas and then keep going for another day non-stop.
Yet that’s the appeal of playing for the Crimson Tide under Nick Saban, who has been able to land players from all over the nation.
“There’s definitely a draw to play here for obvious reasons, so we come from all over,” Williams said.
In addition to the in-state products, Alabama has players from Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington D.C.
It’s 23 states plus the nation’s capital, the home of injured linebacker Terrell Lewis.
So no matter who the Crimson Tide plays this season, there’s probably going to be a connection on the team. This week, it’s the California guys. Next week, when Colorado State returns to Bryant-Denny Stadium, senior punter J.K. Scott will be a popular figure because he’s from Denver.
It’s an impressive testament to Saban’s recruiting prowess, and he has ties all over the nation, as well. He’s originally from West Virginia and went to school at Kent State, but his stops as an assistant coach included Syracuse, Ohio State, Navy, the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) and the Cleveland Browns. He also has been a head coach at Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and the Miami Dolphins.
Having lived in so many places can only help Saban when he sits down with a player and his parents — he can easily bring up something they can relate to.
“I would have to think that having roots in Louisiana, he understands how to communicate with those parents and those guys,” Marcus Spears of the SEC Network said as an example.
Of course, having five national championship rings he can dangle helps, as well.
“Winning national championships and sending a lot of guys to the draft” is the ultimate appeal, Spears said.
The point is, while diversity is a hot topic in the U.S., sports are a way we come together — as a team, as fans and even in media. Geographic diversity is a part of that, and it’s fitting that a football team reflects the school which now has more out-of-state enrollees than home grown.
Consequently, there’s probably no major event in the country that won’t affect someone on the Crimson Tide in some way.
So on this emotional week, when Alabama fans everywhere want to cry for Mike Locksley’s family after the death of his son, there’s a lot more going on with the Crimson Tide than preparing for the home opener.
For quarterback Jalen Hurts and defensive back Tony Brown, their families are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley and the other Florida products are concerned about Hurricane Irma. There are devastating fires raging throughout the West Coast, and especially California.
Some would say they make football less important when actually the opposite is true. They make it more important, even a game like Fresno State at Alabama, when so many will again be playing for much more than themselves.
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