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UA's Richardson, Hightower, Kirkpatrick NFL-bound

By John Zenor

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 12 2012 1:25 p.m. MST

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama All-Americans Trent Richardson, Dont'a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick have declared for the NFL draft.

Richardson and Kirkpatrick announced their decisions Thursday to skip their senior seasons with the national champions. Alabama spokesman Jeff Purinton said Hightower also isn't returning.

Richardson and Kirkpatrick are both projected as potential Top 10 picks while Hightower is regarded as a potential first-rounder.

Richardson won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back and was third in the Heisman voting. He set school single-season rushing records with 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns.

He and Hightower were first-team AP All-America selections while Kirkpatrick was a second-teamer.

The Tide lost three underclassmen to the NFL last year, but wound up beating LSU 21-0 in Monday night's national title game. Kirkpatrick and Richardson were part of two national championship teams.

Richardson said he made the decision Wednesday night. He went home to Pensacola, Fla., from the national championship game in New Orleans to discuss his future with family.

He said he wanted to be able to take care of his mother — who he says has Lupus — and two young daughters.

"This place has changed my life," Richardson said. "It really turned me from a teenager to a man, and a grown man at that."

Hightower was eligible for a fifth year of eligibility after missing most of the 2009 national championship season with a knee injury. He wasn't present at the news conference, and Saban only talked about Richardson and Kirkpatrick.

"These two young men have done a fabulous job of representing the University of Alabama, their family, themselves," Saban said.

"Both guys have done a really good job academically."

He said both players pledged to complete their degrees and are about 20 credit hours shy. Hightower, a team captain, graduated in December.

The trio were part of two national championships during their careers, though Hightower missed the first championship game.

"These are the things that we always dreamed of," Kirkpatrick said. "Playing for two national champions is something that's unheard of.

"Coach Saban has taught me pretty much everything. I call him my father."

Outland Trophy Award-winning left tackle Barrett Jones had already announced he's returning for his senior season.

Alabama had a school-record four first-round selections last year, including underclassmen Marcell Dareus, Julio Jones and Mark Ingram.

Two seniors, safety Mark Barron and linebacker Courtney Upshaw, are also considered likely first-rounders from the nation's top defense.

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