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Dont'a Hightower a Player That Dynasties Were Built Around: All Things CW

By Christopher Walsh,


The former Alabama and New England Patriots linebacker may not have posted the best numbers, but had his own kind of unparalleled success in football.

The All Things CW notes column by Christopher Walsh appears in five parts each week, with the latest on the Alabama Crimson Tide . This is ...

Take 2

The announcement by former Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower that he was retiring from football on Tuesday could haven been called anything but surprising. The 33-year-old didn't play last season after his last contract with the New England Patriots expired, and for a while he and his wife had been posting the kind of photos on social media that be indicative of a professional athlete who's thinking less and less about trying to come back again.

However, that's among the things I always liked about Hightower. He always seemed to be his own man, and very good at proving his doubters and detractors wrong.

Nevertheless, his retirement shook me a little because it was a strong reminder of just how long this incredible run under Nick Saban has been going on at Alabama, and how someday it too will come to an end.

Hightower was a part of the amazing 208 recruiting class, the one that ignited the dynasty and included an amazing seven consensus All-Americans (Mark Barron, Terrence Cody twice, Mark Ingram II, Barrett Jones twice and Hightower).

Ingram won the program’s first Heisman Trophy, Jones an Outland Trophy and the Campbell Trophy (the academic Heisman), and those who stuck around for five years left school with three national championship rings.

It should also be mentioned that two non All-Americans from that class were selected third- and sixth-overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, defensive lineman Marcell Dareus and wide receiver Julio Jones, respectively.

Currently, Jones and Ingram are the only two left playing, and both are unsigned free agents. One would think both could end up continuing their careers, but NFL teams are no longer climbing over each other to try and sign them.

Hightower wasn't considered the best prospect in that class 15 years ago (and yes, there have now been 10-year reunions for Alabama's first three national titles under Saban), but he always came across to me as someone who was always better than the numbers indicated.

And his numbers were really, really good.

  • 2011 Consensus All-American
  • 2011 All-SEC
  • 25th-overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft
  • Was the leading tackler and captain on the 2011 defense, which led the nation in all four major statistical categories (total, scoring, rushing pass-efficiency defense)
  • Finished his Crimson Tide career with 235 tackles, including 21.0 for a loss and five sacks, to go with two interceptions, three forced fumbles and two recovered
  • Was also a team captain in 2010

When we did the Saban Top 100 in 2020, ranking the players at Alabama since the coach arrived in 2007, Hightower was No. 15 . In the process of putting the project together he was one of those players one couldn't help but think "He should be higher" no matter where listed.

Hightower also, you may remember, blew out his knee against Arkansas in 2009, on a low hit that many fans thought was a cheap shot as the opposing player had dove helmet-first into his left leg.

I asked him about it once and will never forget his answer. Hightower said with a straight face the injury was his own fault because he didn't use the technique his coaches had taught him for avoiding the injury.

You don't hear that kind of thing very often.

So it didn't surprise me that he had comparable success in the NFL, including three Super Bowls, two Pro Bowls and yes, being named a team captain — how many players can say they've done that for the two dynasties that defined their times?

Or that Hightower, who spurned playing college ball in his home state of Tennessee, was among those to opt out of the 2020 NFL season due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. He and his then-fiancee just had a son.

He did what he felt was right for his family.

Hightower probably just did so again.

"I’m totally at peace knowing that I gave this franchise every ounce of sweat I had left," Hightower wrote in his farewell piece for The Players' Tribune, titled " Thank You New England ."

But his departure is a sign to the looming end of an era, at both levels of football, and a reminder to both Alabama and New England fans to enjoy whatever time may be left.

See Also:

Take 1: The NCAA Tournament is Alabama's to Win or Lose

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