Where it stands in the SEC in notable players leaving early for the NFL or having committed to come back (underclassmen have until Sunday to declare):
Alabama LB Dont'a Hightower
Alabama CB Dre Kirkpatrick
Alabama RB Trent Richardson
Georgia TE Orson Charles
LSU DT Michael Brockers
LSU CB Morris Claiborne
LSU WR Russell Shepard
Ole Miss OT Bobby Massie
Mississippi State DT Fletcher Cox
South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery
South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore
Alabama OT Barrett Jones
Alabama OT D.J. Fluker
Alabama S Robert Lester
Arkansas RB Knile Davis
Auburn TE Philip Lutzenkirchen
Auburn RB Onterio McCalebb
Georgia NT John Jenkins
Georgia LB Jarvis Jones
Georgia S Bacarri Rambo
Georgia S Shawn Williams
LSU DE Sam Montgomery
Three days after winning a second BCS championship in three years, Alabama lost three juniors to the NFL.
Tailback Trent Richardson, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and linebacker Dont'a Hightower announced Thursday that they would forgo their final season in Tuscaloosa. Richardson scored the only touchdown in Monday night's 21-0 smothering of LSU in the Superdome, while Kirkpatrick and Hightower helped spearhead a defense that kept the Tigers out of Crimson Tide territory until midway through the fourth quarter.
Richardson and Kirkpatrick held a news conference that included Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.
"We are 100 percent supportive of both of these young men in terms of what their choice is," Saban said. "They've been great ambassadors and great representatives of the University of Alabama as people, as students and as football players, and I know they will continue to be ambassadors for this university in everything that they do in the future."
Hightower, who played in four seasons but had his 2009 season cut short before the halfway mark by a torn ACL, sent word through a university release.
Alabama also had three players leave early last year, when defensive tackle Marcell Dareus went third overall to Denver, receiver Julio Jones went sixth to Atlanta and tailback Mark Ingram 28th to New Orleans. The Tide weren't the only national finalists affected by departures Thursday, as LSU junior cornerback Morris Claiborne, redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Michael Brockers and junior receiver Russell Shepard announced they were leaving the Tigers.
Richardson set Alabama's single-season rushing record with 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns, and he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. He had eight 100-yard games and amassed a career-high 203 in the 42-14 win at Auburn.
In 2009, Richardson signed with the Tide as Rivals.com's No. 6 prospect nationally and the No. 2 tailback behind Tennessee signee Bryce Brown.
"To come in as a freshman and contribute to the team in '09 and to win a national championship was pretty big for me," Richardson said. "I came in as a young guy not knowing where to go. Today is a sad moment and a happy moment."
Richardson and Kirkpatrick, who was the No. 11 prospect nationally in the '09 class, played on Alabama teams that went 36-4 and won three bowls by a combined 79 points. Family factored into each decision, as Richardson has two daughters and Kirkpatrick has a son.
"After the [BCS title] game, my mom came to talk to me and said she thought it was time," Kirkpatrick said. "I felt the same way in my heart. It was a family decision that we went back and forth with, but I think we made the right decision and I am going to stand by that decision."
Saban was late to the conference due to a congratulatory phone call from President Barack Obama.
LSU's Claiborne had six interceptions this past season and won the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to college football's top defensive back. Brockers racked up 54 tackles and 10 tackles for loss, and he blocked a Jeremy Shelley field-goal attempt Monday night.
Shepard, the No. 7 overall prospect in the '09 class, is the biggest surprise of the three, having played just three snaps Monday. Claiborne and Brockers announced their intentions at a news conference along with coach Les Miles, while Shepard announced his via Twitter.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...