Alabama football coach Nick Saban has been known to be rather controlling throughout his successful career, but he's never been able to conquer time.
Which is why even he can be floored at how quickly players move through his program.
"You can't buy it. You can't stop it, and you can't bottle it," Saban said this week in a news conference. "You've just got to do the best you can with it, I guess, and try to make every day count. I look at some of these guys who are seniors on our team, and it seems like I was just in their house (for a recruiting visit) two weeks ago.
"It goes by fast for me, too."
The Crimson Tide, who are 9-1 and No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, host Charleston Southern of the Football Championship Subdivision on Saturday. It will be the final game inside Bryant-Denny Stadium for 25 scholarship and walk-on Crimson Tide seniors, a group that has managed to keep the program at an elite level.
Those who signed in 2012 experienced a national championship as freshmen and have produced 45 wins in 51 games, with that group including tailback Kenyan Drake, nose tackle Darren Lake, linebackers Denzel Devall, Dillon Lee and Reggie Ragland, and defensive backs Cyrus Jones and Geno Matias-Smith.
Those who signed in 2011 have two national titles and a 57-7 career mark, with that crop containing center Ryan Kelly, defensive lineman D.J. Pettway and defensive backs Bradley Sylve and Jabriel Washington.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for this group of guys," Saban said. "They've had a lot of success here and have probably had a little different circumstances than some of the other teams. The expectation has always been greater for them, and they haven't always been able to finish like we've wanted to, but they've shown a lot of resiliency and leadership this year to have a chance to create an opportunity for themselves to maybe finish this year."facebook
Alabama's 2013 team began that season as a heavy favorite to make college football history by winning a third consecutive national crown. The Crimson Tide raced out to an 11-0 start, dismantling opponents by an average score of 40-9, but their quest ended in stunning fashion when Auburn's Chris Davis returned Adam Griffith's 57-yard field-goal attempt 109 yards for a touchdown and a 34-28 Tigers triumph.
Last year's Tide won the Southeastern Conference title and entered the sport's inaugural four-team playoff as the top seed, but a 21-6 lead over Ohio State in the semifinal didn't hold as the Buckeyes roared back for a 42-35 win.
"It's been a long journey," Jones told reporters this week. "There have been good times and bad times, but it's been a blessing. I will always enjoy the relationships that I've built here. It's going to be bittersweet Saturday, but I'm looking forward to it."
The bad times have included several off-the-field mishaps, with Jones arrested in April on domestic violence charges that were later dropped. Drake was arrested for entering a crime scene and Matias-Smith on two occasions for driving under the influence, while Pettway was arrested and dismissed from the program after being charged with second-degree battery in February 2013.
Pettway was allowed back in the program in December 2013 and has played this season as a graduate student.
Lee intercepted a pass in his very first game, a 41-14 rout of Michigan in Texas, but violated curfew before that season's BCS title game against Notre Dame and was sent home from Miami. Like so many of his classmates, he endured and eventually thrived, intercepting LSU quarterback Brandon Harris earlier this month on the first play of the second half to help turn a 13-10 lead into a 30-16 win.
"It makes me proud to recognize these guys for the contributions that they've made on and off the field and in the community," Saban said. "As a group, they've done an outstanding job of representing the University of Alabama."
Said Lee: "It's a little bit crazy thinking that my four years are up. It really just flies by. I didn't think it would, but here I am. I'll be in touch with these guys for the rest of my life."
Saturday could also be the final home game for heralded Crimson Tide juniors such as tailback Derrick Henry, tight end O.J. Howard and defensive linemen A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen, but this moment has been reserved for the seniors.
"It's going to be pretty emotional once we go through that tunnel," Devall said. "There are going to be a lot of memories I take with me."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.