Sophomores play big role in second year for Alabama football


CW/ Hannah Saad

Ben Stansell, Sports Writer

The foundation for success in college football is recruiting, and nobody has been more successful on the recruiting trail in the past decade than Head Coach Nick Saban. During his tenure at Alabama, Saban has only finished without a top-five recruiting class in one season – his first. For seven straight years (2011-17), the Crimson Tide landed the No. 1 class.

Even among Alabama’s many talented recruiting classes over the years, the class of 2017 stands out. An especially large class consisting of 28 players, the 2017 class is arguably one of Saban’s best. Since most players from that class are now two games into their sophomore seasons, they are carving out important roles on both offense and defense.

Here’s a look at how several sophomores are stepping up for the Crimson Tide.

Najee Harris:

Alabama’s highest-rated commit in the 2017 class, Harris was greeted with much anticipation when he arrived in Tuscaloosa. After only carrying the ball 56 times in the regular season, Harris set the stage for a breakout sophomore season when he ran wild in the national championship game. So far Harris has delivered, rushing 21 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns in Alabama’s wins over Louisville and Arkansas State.

“Well, you know, Najee has done a phenomenal job for us,” tight end Hale Hentges said. “He really makes plays like that all the time in practice. He’s done a really great job, and it’s really nice to see him have a breakout day just because of all the hard work he’s put in in practice.”

Xavier McKinney:

Alabama needed new faces to step up in the secondary, and McKinney has answered the call. The former four-star made the jump from special teams contributor to starting safety this season. Not only has McKinney shown an ability to come up and make plays near the line of scrimmage, but he’s also proven reliable in coverage. McKinney has 10 tackles, one pass breakup and has assisted on a sack this season.

“He has matured a lot,” safety Deionte Thompson said. “X is a guy that is very important to our secondary. He’s a leader. He gets the calls across the board to everybody. Me and him do a good job communicating, and I’m proud of the progress that he’s making.”

Dylan Moses:

Forced into action after injuries ravaged Alabama’s linebacker corps last season, Moses had to learn on the fly as a freshman. The experience he gained in those 11 games, two of which were starts, has paid dividends. At starting inside linebacker opposite Mack Wilson, Moses has transformed into one of the defense’s key leaders. Moses has made seven tackles and two sacks this season.

Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III:

The trio of Jeudy, Smith and Ruggs saw the field in all 14 of Alabama’s games last season, establishing themselves as the Crimson Tide’s future at wide receiver. Each made an impact as a freshman: Jeudy caught 14 passes for 264 yards; Smith caught three touchdowns, including the national championship winning pass from Tua Tagovailoa; and Ruggs brought in six touchdown catches.

As sophomores, Jeudy, Smith and Ruggs have picked up right where they left off and have become one of the most potent receiving corps in the country. The group has combined for 20 receptions for 398 yards and six touchdowns so far this year.

“It’s real unique because now teams can’t just focus on one person,” Smith said. “They have to focus on the entire offense.”