Da'Shawn Hand, the nation's No. 1 prospect according to Rivals.com, committed to Alabama on Friday.
The 6-foot-4, 254-pound defensive end from Woodbridge, Va., picked the Crimson Tide over Florida and Michigan, with most recruiting analysts believing he would select the Wolverines. Hand is the 10th member of Rivals's top 100 to commit to Alabama and the second in the top three, joining offensive tackle Cameron Robinson of West Monroe, La.
Alabama has finished atop Rivals' team rankings five of the last six years.
Should Hand sign with the Tide and remain No. 1 on the Rivals rankings, he would become the first Rivals top overall prospect to head to Tuscaloosa. Tackle Andre Smith was the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2006 class, with tackle D.J. Fluker No. 3 in 2009, receiver Julio Jones No. 4 in 2008 and tackle Cyrus Kouandjio No. 4 in 2011.
Hand is rated the No. 5 overall prospect by 247sports.com and No. 10 by Scout.com.
Alabama fifth-year senior linebacker Tana Patrick is winding down his time in Tuscaloosa without having started a game, but he will forever have a meaningful play to cherish.
In last Saturday night's key showdown with LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium, the 6-foot-3, 238-pound former North Jackson standout not only provided the most impactful moment of his career but of Alabama's season from a defensive standpoint. With the Tigers roaring down the field on their opening possession, Patrick stripped LSU fullback J.C. Copeland at the 1-yard line, causing a fumble that was recovered by Crimson Tide safety Landon Collins.
Suddenly, all those grueling August afternoons on the practice fields and the burning desire to play more on autumn Saturdays went away in a flash.
"Oh, yes, this makes it all worthwhile," Patrick said by phone this week. "All the work and time that I've put in, and being willing to do whatever they want me to do any time they want me to do it -- I've always been ready whenever they've called me."
Patrick entered last Saturday with 35 career tackles in 37 career games, with many of his stops coming against the likes of Georgia State and Kent State. Yet he began last year to develop a knack for stopping the run in short-yardage situations and became a fixture in those rare situations when Alabama gets backed against its own goal line.
Last Saturday was one of those situations, as LSU used a 45-yard pass from Zach Mettenberger to Jarvis Landry and three Terrence Magee runs totaling 28 yards to get to the doorstep of Alabama's end zone.
"We knew from our game plan that if the tailback motioned out that I would be manned on the tight end," Patrick said. "I had the tight end, and once I went down to try and get my man, the guard had pulled around, so I scraped over the top of him and saw the fullback with the ball. I saw that he was carrying it kind of loose, so I punched the ball out.
"As soon as I hit him, I knew I got all ball."
The Crimson Tide's closing 21-point surge, which was ignited by a fake punt midway through the third quarter, got most of the attention following their 38-17 triumph, but Patrick's first career forced fumble has not been lost on the two head coaches in the days since.
"It was certainly a seven-point turnaround on one play," LSU's Les Miles said. "Those kinds of plays pressure the opponent, and it was significant. We fumbled on our next possession and gave them a short field and three points, so if you look at the first part of the game, we spotted them 10. I know J.C. feels as bad about it as anybody. If we have ball security and bend into the end zone, it's a routine touchdown."
Said Alabama's Nick Saban: "Tana made a huge difference in the outcome of the game."
Patrick signed with Alabama in 2009 as a Rivals.com top-100 national prospect but found a depth chart stocked with NFL talent. Since Patrick signed, fellow Crimson Tide linebackers Rolando McLain, Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and Nico Johnson have been drafted, and C.J. Mosley is a projected first-round pick next May.
That has been the primary reason Patrick has been relegated to backup duty and spot situations.
"Tana has been a guy that whatever his role has been here, he's been willing to play it," Saban said. "He never gets disappointed. He never gets frustrated. He's always upbeat and positive. He's played for us all year on goal line, and that was certainly a huge play in the game early on when we weren't playing well."
Patrick earned his diploma in May and is now a graduate student taking business entrepreneur classes. He said in January that he would like to open a couple of barbecue restaurants around Chattanooga or his Bridgeport hometown, and that remains his desire once his playing days are over.
Of course, there are several very important weeks coming up for the top-ranked Tide, and more opportunities for Patrick to shine.
"I've been getting forced fumbles in practice once or twice a week since we started camp," Patrick said. "It's something I've been doing for a long time, and this was just the perfect time to do it in a game. It was just like a natural reaction since I've done it so much.
"Nothing has changed for me this week in practice. I'm taking the same approach of going all out every single day."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.