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Top 50 starts with a true Alabama legend, Rashad Johnson
Top 50 starts with a true Alabama legend, Rashad Johnson

TUSCALOOSA, Alabama – The top 50 of the Saban 250, a ranking of the most important players of the Nick Saban era with the Crimson Tide, begins with a player who not only stood out on the field but has an even better story: Rashad Johnson.

He didn’t win a national championship or even an SEC title under the coach, but he may have benefited more from Saban as a head coach than anyone else.

After attending Sulligent High School in Alabama, Johnson did not receive a single Division I scholarship as a junior. In 2004, he joined the Crimson Tide under Mike Shula as a running back. In 2005, he switched to safety and received a full scholarship in 2006. He was credited with 33 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss in action.

After Nick Saban took over in 2007, his career really took off. Johnson won a starting spot as free safety and eventually became his team’s leading player with 81 tackles. His six interceptions were the most in the SEC and 10th best nationally.

He was named an All-American the following season when Alabama reached the SEC Championship Game. The game he will forever be remembered for was the Saban “Homecoming” game in Death Valley in 2008. Johnson threw three interceptions, setting the Crimson Tide record for a single game. He turned one of those into a touchdown, and the last one came in overtime, setting up the offense that scored the winning point in the 27-21 victory.

After making a major impact in the final two years of his career, during which he was named captain of his team in both seasons, he played eight years in the NFL, seven of them with the team that drafted him, the Arizona Cardinals.

The Saban 250 lists the players who had the greatest impact during his time with the Crimson Tide (2007–23).

46. ​​Marcell Dareus, DT, 2008-10

• 2010 All-SEC
• Third pick in the 2011 NFL Draft
• Was named the best defensive player in the 2010 BCS Championship Game after turning an interception into a 28-yard touchdown against Texas in the Rose Bowl.

47. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, 2009-11

• 2011 All-American
• 2010–11 Second Team All-SEC
• 17th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft
• He had 53 tackles and three interceptions in 2010, but only 30 in 2011 as the offense largely avoided him. He had a fumble recovery for a touchdown last season.
• Recorded 91 tackles in his career, including eight losses, and three interceptions

48. Courtney Upshaw, LB. 2008-11

• 2011 All-American; Second-team All-American
• 2011 All-SEC
• Second round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft
• As a junior, he was credited with 52 total tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and four forced fumbles.
• In his final season, he recorded 51 total tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
• Had 141 tackles in his career, including 36.5 for loss and 17.5 sacks

50. Alex Leatherwood, OL, 2017–20

• Won the Outland Trophy 2020
• Unanimous All-American 2020; All-American 2019
• 2020 Co-SEC Jacobs Blocking Trophy
• 2020 All SEC
• Team Captain 2020
• 17th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft
• Played in seven games as a freshman reserve before moving into the starting lineup as right guard in 2018. Spent his final two seasons as left tackle
• Played 48 games in his career since 2018, including 41 consecutive starts
• On average, the Alabama coaching staff achieved an overall block score of 91.5 and 99.7 on the tasks
• Leatherwood played 832 snaps during the 2020 season and allowed just two sacks, missed just three tackles and committed just five penalties. He allowed just three quarterback hurries and four pressures.

49. Rashad Johnson, S, 2007-08

• 2008 All-American; Second-team All-American
• 2007-08 All SEC
• Third round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft
• Twice named team captain
• Was originally a walk-on running back
• As a junior, he led the defense with 81 tackles and six interceptions
• As a senior, he recorded 89 tackles and five interceptions
• Tied an Alabama record with three interceptions against LSU (scored one touchdown, had another interception in overtime)
• He is credited with 216 tackles in his career, all but 33 of which came during the Nick Saban era. All 11 of his interceptions, including the two he returned for a touchdown, came

Former Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw and his defensive teammates on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Linebacker Courtney Upshaw and the Alabama Crimson Tide defense made the cover of Sports Illustrated after winning the 2011 national title. /

There’s a side of Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw that Crimson Tide fans almost never see unless they’re from his hometown of Eufaula.

Although the city of 14,000 was in the state, it wasn’t necessarily considered Crimson Tide territory when he was recruited. Crimson Tide players from the city bordered Georgia and were practically behind enemy lines due to its proximity to rival Auburn. As a result, Crimson Tide players from there were quite rare, such as Paul Trodd (kicker, 1981-83), Jug Jenkins (end, 1949-51) and William Hoadley Merrill (guard, 1910).

Even when he was in Tuscaloosa, Upshaw visited him regularly, and not just his aunt Donnella Williams, who took him in at the age of seven along with his brother.

The McKenzies, Leigh and Tom, along with their son Will, whom Upshaw had met in kindergarten, were practically his second family. The Haygoods helped him work hard academically so he could qualify for his scholarship.

Yes, he also visited the schools where he attended classes.

“When I go home, I try to spend time with the kids,” Upshaw explained in 2011. “When school starts again, I go to the elementary school. I go to the high school and say hello to the people who taught me and so on, the principal, the people who helped me get into college, who got me through, who tutored me for the final exam.”

“Just because of the way I grew up. Honestly, I didn’t really have a role model. Growing up, I really didn’t have anyone to help me.”

With that in mind, Upshaw came home the day after the April 27, 2011, tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa and, like so many others, wanted to do something to help. Based on contacts he’d made over the years, he asked what could be done within NCAA rules and it turned out they were the right people.

With the help of County Judge Burt Smithart and other Eufaula residents, Upshaw established the 41 Fund to help victims of the disaster. To help fund it, book signings were approved by Alabama’s Department of Compliance, with all proceeds going to the foundation.

Even he was surprised by the response. The lines were huge and others donated to raise thousands. Three U-Haul trucks full of supplies were immediately sent to Tuscaloosa.

“I knew I was going to raise some money, but I didn’t think I was going to raise that much,” Upshaw said. “It was a lot of people. I thought it was just going to be Bama fans doing it in my hometown full of Auburn people, but a lot of people came.”

In addition, Eufaula was immensely proud of his son, who was dressed in purple, and people asked to have their babies photographed with him. The public court records website stated: “The town is home to several well-known personalities such as Martha Reeves, lead singer of the American Motown group Martha & the Vandellas, Lula Mae Hardaway, mother of Stevie Wonder, and Courtney Upshaw, linebacker for the University of Alabama football team.”

Upshaw was just hoping to have a season worthy of that praise and perhaps catapult himself to a top pick in the NFL Draft. Although he was hampered by an ankle sprain that prevented him from pushing off or jumping well at the snap, he still developed into Alabama’s best pass rusher in 2010.

Upshaw posted 10 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles against Auburn and was equally strong in the Capital One Bowl against Michigan State. He was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week against Florida earlier in the season (seven tackles, four for loss, a forced fumble and two passes intercepted) when his mother, who had recently returned to his life, saw him play with Alabama for the first time.

We assume she was impressed. His teammates certainly were.

“Can I say the four-letter word?” second-year tight end Michael Williams said of his constant attempts to stop No. 41 in practice. “Every day, it’s like that.”

“It’s not pretty,” junior running back Trent Richardson said of trying to catch Upshaw on a blitz. “He’s one of the strongest, biggest guys you can find on a football field, and he’s pretty fast, too. When I look at him and I know he’s blitzing, I’m like, ‘Mannnn.’ In practice, you can’t get out of the way, so I have to go eye to eye with him. We’re about the same strength, but his body is special.”

“It’s challenging,” junior offensive lineman Barrett Jones summed up. “The best rushers in any league are guys that can beat you with speed and power. The thing about Courtney is he’s the perfect blend of speed and power. He’s so fast on the edge and can beat you with a speed rush. But once you kind of soften him up so you go back and handle that speed rush, he just runs all over you. So he’s really an extremely difficult guy to block.”:

ESPN.com rated him the 10th best player in the SEC before the 2011 season. In the media voting for preseason All-SEC honors, only four other defensive players received more votes (three of them were teammates: linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Mark Barron and nose tackle Josh Chapman) and only 11 total.

“I don’t see any way to block him,” Hightower said. “You let him slide or you cover him with two men, but he’ll find a way to get the ball.”

See also: 51-60, OJ Howard was Mr. Clutch in the CFP title games

Next: 41-45

By Aurora