Every February, Alabama celebrates an eye-popping recruiting class on signing day. Count up the recruiting stars, and they might outnumber what you'd see on a trip to an observatory.

The last time Rivals.com ranked the Crimson Tide's recruiting class lower than No. 2 was 2010, when it was No. 5. That ended a streak of consecutive years of No. 1 recruiting classes, but the Tide were No. 1 in each of the next four years.

The 2012 class featured standouts like Amari Cooper, Landon Collins and T.J. Yeldon, who were all among the first 36 picks in last year's draft. Leaders on this year's team -- like linebacker Reggie Ragland, defensive back Geno Smith and running back Kenyan Drake -- all signed back in 2012. 

People know those names. They might not know (or remember) names like Dillon Lee or Brandon Greene. 

Any player worth signing does so with a dream of winning a Butkus Award or the Rimington Trophy or even the Heisman Trophy. It's a lofty goal, but at Alabama, even the goal of starting can feel like climbing a five-story rock face. Not everybody is going to make it to the top. 

So what happens then?

"Football is a developmental game," said Alabama coach Nick Saban, the architect of this madness. "Even though a great expectation is created for them by five-star, four-star [ratings], we try to emphasize development."

ESPN tabbed Lee, a linebacker from Buford, Ga., as the nation's No. 59 overall prospect in 2012. He considered fellow blue bloods Florida, Florida State and his home school, Georgia, before pledging his loyalty to the crimson dynasty. That was one spot ahead of senior Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard, who topped 1,200 receiving yards and caught 11 scores this year.

Greene was even more highly touted, coming in at No. 30 on ESPN's overall ranking, ahead of Cooper (49), a current Oakland Raider, and Yeldon (55), now a Jacksonville Jaguar. 

"I expected to come in and play in the most complicated defense, which is something you can really enjoy when you really understand what it can do for you as a player," said Lee, now a senior.

Greene's aspirations were even simpler. 

"I expected to be an O-lineman, man," the junior said with a laugh.

Greene filled out his 280-pound high school body to 310 pounds during a redshirt season. During his second fall camp, he got word after church that Saban wanted to see him in his office.

"My stomach dropped. I thought I was in trouble," Greene said. "I was kind of nervous about it."

The Tide were set at left tackle with Cyrus Kouandjio, but tight end Mike Williams' departure left a void among blocking tight ends. Saban told Greene of the plan to make the switch. 

Greene has appeared in nearly every game over the past two seasons, but he still doesn't appear anywhere on the depth chart for tight ends. Officially, he's the backup right tackle.

Lee has gotten major work on special teams throughout his career and is listed as a starter at strong side linebacker. But he has just 18 tackles this year after making 23 a year ago.

Theirs is a uniquely Alabama experience. At other schools, they'd arrive with fanfare and hopes of being the center of a defense or offensive line. In Tuscaloosa, they're cogs in the machine, providing depth without earning the forecasted hullabaloo. 

"If I was an OL or a tight end, I knew I wasn't going to win a Heisman, so I wasn't real worried about that," Greene said. "But we've got a lot of humble guys that come in here. That's why Alabama is different from other places."

The rampant butt kissing on the recruiting trail quickly turns to butt kickings on the practice field as freshmen. Making that adjustment is difficult, but Alabama is as good as any program -- especially in a college football climate where transferring is as rampant as ever -- at selling players on finding ways to contribute.

"Everybody, if they don't play that first year, they think maybe I should go somewhere else, but you should just sit around and wait your turn," Greene said. "I want to be remembered as a guy who put the team first. I feel like I'm a team player, and when the team thrives, everybody thrives." 

But what about when you wait and that All-SEC or All-American season never arrives? What happens when a sophomore beats out a senior for playing time? The focus has to be on team, and Saban seems adept at finding ways for teenagers to understand that. The ones who don't usually aren't on the roster by their senior seasons.

"Every freshman has to learn that," Greene said. "You go to all these all-star games and you're the best at your school and position and all that stuff, but you come in and then you get around these guys, and you recognize it's not like that.

"You quickly jump on board. We just want to win, man."

It's easier said than done. Most elite recruits will find promises of playing time on the recruiting trail. Saban can't offer that at Alabama.

"We acknowledge the fact that every player is self-centered to some degree, in terms of what their goals and aspirations are for what they want to accomplish individually," he said. "We want to try and help every player accomplish those goals and aspirations for themselves."

Most of his pitch, though, centers around developing off the field and being "successful in life because of what they do in the program." 

Greene and Lee -- heading into the College Football Playoff semifinal against Michigan State on Thursday -- don't talk about their careers in a tone of disappointment. That'd be hard to do on a week like this, anyway. For their efforts, both already have one national title ring and might earn another with this year's trip to the playoff. 

For talents sold on team, that's hardly a consolation prize. 

"We're like a big family," Green said. "If I'd gone to another school, I probably wouldn't be in this situation right now."

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