NEW YORK - The University of Alabama equaled a school-record with four players selected in the first round of the 2012 National Football League Draft on Thursday evening at Radio City Music Hall.
For the second straight year an Alabama player came off the board at No. 3 when the Cleveland Browns traded up one spot to lay claim to Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson. Two members of the Crimson Tide secondary were next with safety Mark Barron going to Tampa Bay at No. 7 and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick going 17th to Cincinnati. Junior linebacker Dont'a Hightower then came off the board at No. 25 to the New England Patriots.
"It is very exciting for these guys," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "But the first thing I remember is going into these guys' houses when they were in high school or going to their high school to see them when they were juniors. I'm saying `that doesn't seem like it was that long ago' but the guy you met then and the man they are now - that is one of the great things about college football. To see these guys develop, grow and mature, personally, academically and athletically really makes you feel proud. And that is one of the things I love about college coaching."
The four first-round selections tied the school record, equaling the mark of four set just last season when Marcell Dareus, Julio Jones, James Carpenter and Mark Ingram all went in round one. UA has now had 11 first-round picks during head coach Nick Saban's tenure at Alabama and 10 in the past three years.
Richardson, a native of Pensacola, Fla., is the second Tide running back drafted in the first round in the last two years. The first-team unanimous All-American rushed for a school-record 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns while catching 29 passes for 356 yards and three more scores.
"I don't think it is surprising," Saban said of Richardson going No. 3 overall. "The rumor was that Tampa Bay was trying to move up to three - that they were interested in him. Cleveland is a great franchise. I was there for four years. I know all of these guys from the south don't want to go up north, but the Cleveland Browns and the people in Cleveland, they have a spirit like a high school team for the Cleveland Browns. Any player appreciates that and I think Trent will love it there. It is a great place to play sports."
Barron, a native of Mobile, Ala., came back for his senior season in 2011 and helped lead Alabama to the team's second national championship in the last three years. He became a two-time first-team All-American, earning unanimous honors in 2011. Barron made 68 tackles as a senior with five tackles for loss, two interceptions and five pass breakups.
"I thought Mark was one of the guys that everyone started to feel like, after these first five or six guys, this guy is the next best player in the draft," Saban said. "He fits his position great and I'm really, really happy for Mark. I think Mark would have gone in the top 10 if he wasn't picked here (at No. 7 by Tampa Bay). I know everyone was talking about Dallas at 14, but I just felt like Mark was going to get picked before that because he was one of the top six or seven players in this draft."
Kirkpatrick, a native of Gadsden, Ala., went with the No. 17 overall selection by the Cincinnati Bengals. The cornerback was a two-year starter who had 40 tackles - 24 solo - as a junior in 2011. He broke up nine passes and finished with four tackles for loss.
The 25th pick saw Bill Belichick's New England Patriots take the Tide's stalwart linebacker Dont'a Hightower. He started 42 career games and made 234 career tackles. Hightower made a team and career-high 85 tackles in 2011 helping lead one of the best defensive units in college football history. He finished his redshirt junior season with 11 tackles for loss and four sacks.
The second and third round of the NFL Draft continues on Friday evening from Radio City Music hall in New York City with rounds 4-7 wrapping up the draft on Saturday. Courtney Upshaw was in New York for the draft and should hear his name called early in round two on Friday.