November 3, 2012; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Deion Belue (13) against the LSU Tigers during a game at Tiger Stadium. Alabama defeated LSU 21-17. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Saban and The JUCO Effect


The Alabama Crimson Tide recently landed junior college OL standout Dominick Jackson for the 2014 recruiting class, adding him to the ever-growing list of JUCO transfers under Nick Saban. The question for Jackson will be whether he becomes an immediate impact player, as have the majority of Saban JUCO players.

Signing JUCO transfers is nothing abnormal, as almost every team does it yearly, but bringing in the number of players that have not only been starters but eventual NFL stars is a bit staggering.

The very first JUCO transfer under Nick Saban was to be big safety Michael Ricks in his first class in 2007. Grade issues caused the DB to never step foot on Alabama’s campus, and he eventually moved on to Stillman College. Ricks attended an NFL training camp after college, but was cut.

In 2008 things changed as the monstrous “Mt. Cody” strolled into Tuscaloosa. Coming from Gulf Coast Community College in Mississippi then-nearly 400-pound nose tackle Terrence Cody was just the type of immovable object Saban was looking for his 3-4 defense.

A nose tackle’s job in the 3-4 is not to necessarily make big plays, but to eat up space and blocks to allow players behind him like Rolando McClain and Dont’a Hightower to make the plays. But the extremely popular, sometimes-goofy big man was able to take a game over when needed.

Against Tennessee in 2009, Cody blocked two field goals late in the game to preserve Alabama’s undefeated streak leading up to a BCS National Championship. Cody ended his career as a two-time consensus All-American, despite never having more than 30 tackles or a single sack his entire career (he did record 0.5 sack in 2008). Eating up stats wasn’t his job; eating up blocks was his job. Cody was also the leading blocker for eventual Heisman Trophy-winner Mark Ingram at fullback in goal line situations.

Cody was drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens, and in 2012 he and fellow Alabama teammate Courtney Upshaw added Super Bowl rings to their resumes, as the Ravens won their first Super Bowl since 2000. Cody is currently the starting nose tackle for the Ravens.

Following the departure of All-American offensive tackle Andre Smith after the 2008 season, Alabama looked to the JUCO ranks again, this time from Coffeyville Community College and James Carpenter.

Carpenter was rated as one of the best O-lineman in the JUCO ranks that year, and was an immediate starter along the Alabama offensive line. After helping lead the way for a Heisman winner in Mark Ingram and a national championship in 2009, he was named to the All-SEC team as a senior in 2010. He was then drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, where he was named a starter almost immediately.

Carpenter tore his ACL midway through his rookie year, and missed the remainder of the season. He was injured again this past season, only starting seven games before the injury.

In 2010 both defensive tackle Brandon Lewis (East Mississippi Community College) and cornerback DeQuan Menzie (Copiah-Lincoln Community College) were brought in to try and fill some holes. While Lewis never saw the field on defense, he did transition to TE and became a solid extra blocker on short yardage situations. He had some suspensions and eventually left the team before his senior season.

Menzie, on the other hand, started seven games in 2010 (and played in 2012) despite tearing his Achilles tendon in the off season before his first year at Alabama. In 2011 he was one of the best cornerbacks in the country and a first-team All-American, combining with Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron, Robert Lester and Dee Milliner as the best secondary in the country. He started all 13 games as a senior and ended up with 41 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 11 pass breakups, and one interception. He was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. After one year with the Chiefs he was released and signed by the Detroit Lions.

In 2011, Duron Carter, son of NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter, transferred to Alabama from Coffeyville Community College but never saw the field as he was never able to get his grades up to standard. Carter also had ongoing disciplinary issues, being suspended before finally leaving the team.

Carter eventually transferred south to Florida-Atlantic, where he was kicked off the field following a shouting match with FAU’s wide receivers coach on his very first day with the team. Carter ended up leaving FAU before ever playing, and is currently trying to make a team in the Canadian Football League.

A trio of talented JUCO transfers joined the Crimson Tide in time for the Spring of 2011 in former Tennessee offensive tackle Aaron Douglas (Arizona Western Community College), defensive end Quinton Dial (East Mississippi Community College), and defensive lineman Jesse Williams (Arizona Western Community College). Sadly, Douglas was never able to play for the Tide, as he passed away following spring practice due to a drug overdose.

Dial played in every single game of his Alabama career as a part of the rotation of lineman Alabama used. Dial had 46 tackles and 2.5 sacks with the Tide and was drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers, despite never starting a game in college.

Williams, on the other hand, started at both defensive end in 2011 and nose tackle in 2012. As the most powerful player of the team, Williams helped anchor the best rushing defense in the country, showing the versatility to play all spots along the line. Missing only one game in his career, he started every other game, and finished with 61 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and one blocked kick. He was drafted in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks, joining former Alabama JUCO transfer James Carpenter.

In 2012 the only JUCO transfers were cornerbacks Deion Belue and Trevall Dixon. Dixon ended up leaving the team before the season even started, but Belue became the starting cornerback opposite All-American Dee Milliner, starting every game of the 2012 season. After struggling initially, Belue settled in and became yet another solid starter in the Alabama secondary. Belue has the most experience of all the returning corners for Alabama coming into 2013 and will be expected to continue his improvement as well as become a leader.

Offensive tackle Leon Brown was the only JUCO transfer from the most recent Alabama recruiting class, and will likely be vying for the spot left by the departed DJ Fluker at right tackle along with Austin Shepherd.

Saban has made it very clear he only goes after JUCO players that he truly believes can play immediately. Though there have been a few misses, the hits have for outweighed the misses.

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  • Bryant Denny

    Nice write up.

    Coach Saban’s effective use of juco players is another testimony to how he is, without a doubt, the best coach in college football.

    Have a good day,

    BD