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Senior class goes down as one of history’s best

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Senior class goes down as one of history’s best

CW/ Hannah Saad

CW/ Hannah Saad

CW/ Hannah Saad

CW/ Hannah Saad

James Ogletree, Sports Writer

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Alabama’s seniors accomplished a lot in their collegiate careers arguably as much as any senior class in history. They finished 55-4 over their four seasons, tying Clemson’s seniors for the most wins by any class in FBS history.

Those 55 victories include four wins apiece against LSU and Tennessee, three Iron Bowls, three SEC Championships and two national championships. They’ve made an indelible mark on the team and the University, but this semester marks the bittersweet end of this stage of their football careers.

“I’ve been trying not to let it sink in,” senior wide receiver Derek Kief said on Saturday, the day of the team’s final practice. “I’m trying to enjoy all the memories with this team, trying to finish it out the right way so I can look back and have positive memories for my last time.”

There are almost too many highlights to choose just one. Most players respond that way when asked to pick a favorite before conceding that winning national championships favor all other accomplishments. Kief and center Ross Pierschbacher both called it the best feeling in the world. The 2015 season, which culminated with a 45-40 title game win over Clemson, sticks out to running back Ronnie Clark, who was a freshman at the time.

“That first one was special because we worked real hard during that year after we had that first loss [at home to Ole Miss],” Clark said. “To come and win every game after that was awesome. Then last year, that catch was pretty amazing.”

Those fond memories are something like rewards for the countless hours in the weight room with strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran barking orders, in team meetings, at home watching films and in the August heat while coach Nick Saban tests his players’ breaking points.

The results extend beyond determination and bodies fit for football. The team’s demands develop character fit for life beyond the confines of Mal Moore Athletic Facility, a life in which a legion of coaches and teammates isn’t always immediately available to help.

Kief, Pierschbacher and Clark all independently said learning to overcome adversity is one of the primary lessons they’ll take with them after leaving Tuscaloosa. But a consistent routine, one of the central tenets of Saban’s coaching philosophy, has also helped players manage and organize their time.

“I’m so used to just being on the go,” senior guard Josh Casher said. “I think [routine] has actually been very beneficial for me because its given me a lot of structure, and it allows me to be very productive in my day. Being at Alabama five years, I’m so used to the structure, and I was raised with structure, so I believe I’m going to be able to flow into [life away from the team] just fine.”

The program has a reputation of relentlessly pursuing greatness with machine-like efficiency, but to say that does not discount the tears, embraces and faces-in-hands that filled the locker room in Santa Clara, California on Monday night. And for running back Damien Harris, even though his final game with the Crimson Tide ended in a devastating 44-16 loss against Clemson, he does not regret refusing to join the NFL draft a year prior.

“[This team] means more to me than any amount of money I could have made last year,” running back Damien Harris said before the game. “Getting to watch Tua’s greatness firsthand and Jalen turn into one of the highest-character guys I’ve ever seen in college football, seeing the success we’ve had on offense, watching guys like [Quinnen Williams] and [Deionte Thompson] and Mack [Wilson] and Dylan Moses. The list goes on and on.”

Harris’s decision to finish his senior year at Alabama did not come lightly, but one he remains confident in making. Not only did he get to be a part of the almost-perfect season the Crimson Tide achieved this year, but he said the memories he made with his teammates mean more than a win.

“Every single day I thank God that I made the decision to come back for one more year, because if I was in the NFL right now I’d be sitting back watching all this saying, ‘Man, I wish I could do it all over again.’”

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Senior class goes down as one of history’s best