Tide Trio to Enter NFL Draft

Dre Kirkpatrick, Trent Richardson and Dont'a Hightower declare

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. Alabama junior cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and junior running back Trent Richardson announced Thursday that they will be entering the 2012 National Football League Draft. In addition, junior linebacker Dont'a Hightower has decided he will also declare for the draft.

Prior to Kirkpatrick and Richardson's announcements, Alabama head coach Nick Saban addressed the room.

"These young men have done a fabulous job of representing the University of Alabama, their families and themselves with their hard work, their dedication and their commitment to excellence, not only on the football field, but also by the kind of people that they have been," said Saban. "I know it is a difficult decision for these guys. They both love the University of Alabama, but they have worked hard all their lives to create the opportunity to play at a place like this, to have the success they have had at a place like this and also to create opportunities for themselves and their future. I want you to know that we are 100 percent supportive of both of these young men in terms of what their choice is."

Kirkpatrick leaves after garnering first-team All-America honors in 2011 and was a two-year starter for Alabama at cornerback. He made 30 tackles this season, helping the Tide capture the National Championship. Kirkpatrick also made four tackles for loss, broke up nine passes and forced two fumbles.

"After the game my mom came to talk to me, and said she thought it was time and I felt the same way in my heart, which is what led to my decision," said Kirkpatrick. "It was a family decision that we went back and forth with, but I think we made the right decision and I am going to stand by that decision. These past years have meant a lot, just to be able to be around a group of guys that I have learned so much from. We all come from different backgrounds with different stories, and we manage to have fun. Having the guidance of a great coach like Coach Saban who has molded me into a young man has been a great opportunity."

Richardson was Alabama's second Heisman Trophy finalist in the last three years, the winner of the Doak Walker Award and a unanimous first-team All-American. In his first full season as a starter, he set the school record with 1,679 yards rushing and 21 rushing touchdowns. He also tied the school and SEC record with 24 total touchdowns while setting the school mark for all-purpose yards with 2,083. He helped the Crimson Tide to two National Championships during his three years and posted a 36-4 overall record at the Capstone.

"We love the support that the University, Tuscaloosa and Coach Saban has given (my family)," said Richardson. "I would never have wanted to play for another college coach. Coach Burton Burns is the best running backs coach I have ever played for or ever seen. The off-the-field stuff he tries to provide for us in being a father figure is big for me. I could never repay Alabama back for what it has meant in my life. It has helped raise me from being a teenager to a young man. This is a sad time, and a happy time. I am going to try and represent Alabama in a class way going into the draft this year."

Although unable to be present at the press conference on Thursday, Hightower also made his decision known.

"After four great years at the University of Alabama, I have decided it is time to make myself eligible for the NFL Draft," Hightower said. "The chance to be a key part of our national championship team this year made for the perfect end of my Alabama career. I can't thank Coach Saban, Coach Smart and the entire coaching staff enough for helping mold me in the player and person I am today. I also want to say thanks to my teammates and everyone at the University of Alabama that helped make this such a special experience."

Hightower, a consensus first-team All-American in 2011, captained the Crimson Tide defense and led the squad with 85 tackles. He recorded 11 tackles for loss (-46 yards), four sacks (-26 yards), with one interception, eight quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Hightower started 40 games, was a part of two national championship teams. During his four years at the Capstone, the Tide posted a 48-6 record.

Crimson Tide players Barrett Jones, D.J. Fluker, Chance Warmack and Robert Lester have already decided they will return to school for their senior season.