Saban backs three Alabama stars' intent to try NFL draft

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama running back Mark Ingram, defensive lineman Marcell Dareus and wide receiver Julio Jones said Friday that they are leaving school early to apply for the 2011 NFL Draft.

However, linebacker Dont'a Hightower said he will return to the Crimson Tide for his final year.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said the three departing players were part of a group that has been as successful as any in the nation over three years.

"Each of these guys made the right decision," Saban said.

Ingram won the Heisman during Alabama's 2009 BCS national championship season, but he was hampered part of this season as he recovered from knee surgery. Ingram said he was leaving the Crimson Tide without any regrets.

"It's been the best experience of my life," Ingram said during a news conference. "I will always bleed Crimson."

Dareus was the star in Alabama's championship-game victory over Texas and had 34 tackles this season as a premier pass rusher. Dareus never expected to be in a position to leave school early for the NFL.

"I had no idea I would have excelled the way I did," he said.

Jones led all Crimson Tide receivers with 1,133 yards and seven touchdowns this season, both more than twice as many as Alabama's No. 2 receiver, Marquis Maze.

Saban indicated that more Crimson Tide players could be on the way out, but he didn't name names.

"We still have guys who are trying to make decisions," he said.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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