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Alabama players Richardson, Kirkpatrick, Hightower headed to the pros

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TUSCALOOSA, AL (WBRC) -

Three big name football players at the University of Alabama have announced they will be heading to the NFL.

Defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick and running back Trent Richardson joined head coach Nick Saban at a press conference to make the announcement on Thursday. Junior linebacker Dont'a Hightower has also decided to declare for the NFL draft although he did not appear at Thursday's press conference.

Prior to the announcement, Saban made the following statement:

"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," he said.

"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," Saban said.

Dre Kirkpatrick has started for the Crimson Tide for the last two years. He had 29 tackles in the 2012 season.

"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," Kirkpatrick said. "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," he said.

Trent Richardson was a workhorse for Alabama in the 2011 season as he ran for 1679 yards in the 2011 season and averaged 5.9 per carry. Richardson also came close to the Heisman trophy as a finalist.

"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," Richardson said.

Dont'a Hightower was unable to attend the press conference, but gave the following statement about his decision to play for the pros:

"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 led the team with 85 tackles and started 40 games. He was a part of two national championship teams. The Crimson Tide had a 48-6 record during his four years on the team.

So, far the National Championship team will be sending four players to the NFL draft. Seniors Courtney Upshaw and Mark Barron are also planning to go pro.

The announcement, which was scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m., ran late. Coach Saban stated that he was late due to receiving a call from President Obama to invite the team to the White House. He also noted that only the President and Mrs. Saban could make him 15 minutes late for anything.

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