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Commitment Breakdown: No. 1 RB Justice Haynes picks Alabama

2023 running back Justice Haynes.
2023 running back Justice Haynes. (Rivals)

Justice Haynes caught everyone off guard.

The No. 1 running back in the 2023 class has long been considered a Georgia lean. According to Haynes, that thought even permeated the minds of the Alabama coaching staff.

But on July 17, Haynes flipped the script. The Bulldog legacy announced his commitment to Alabama over Georgia and Ohio State.

"The message I got was I can go in there and be great," Haynes said. "Bama’s had a bunch of great running backs and I can be the next great back to come out of Bama."

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Georgia had been considered the leader for much of Haynes' recruitment. As his process came down the stretch this summer, Alabama and Ohio State joined the Bulldogs as the frontrunners. Each school received an official visit from Haynes in June.

That official visit to Tuscaloosa is what sent the Crimson Tide surging to the front. Haynes spent time with people up and down the program, getting a peek behind the curtain at the program Nick Saban has built.

"Everywhere I go, you’re going to have great facilities, the flashy stuff is going to be there," Haynes said. "It was really the people that make the place. You could have the greatest facility In the world, but if you don’t have great people working the facility it doesn’t matter. So the people at Bama, it had the facilities, but that made it special. That’s when Bama, I got that at-home feeling at Bama."

The message from Georgia had been going from a legacy to a legend of his own. The message from Bama had a similar tone - come to Tuscaloosa and be the next in the long string of elite Crimson Tide running backs.

Haynes knows that Saban and running backs coach Robert Gillespie will push him to be his best. He also has gotten a look at how the strength and conditioning program will shape him into the best athlete and person he can be.

"They’re going to get a baseline test, figure out where your weaknesses are, and they’re going to make that your strength," Haynes said. "You’re also going to continue your strengths and make those stronger. You’re going to continue just to keep growing in everything. They have a specific plan for you. Each player has a different plan. Any guy on the team, Will Anderson, he has his own plan. I have my own plan as well."

The relationship with Saban also stands out to Haynes. While he said most see him screaming on the sidelines during games, Haynes has also seen a different side of him throughout the recruitment process.

"I spent a lot of time with him on my official visit," Haynes said. "Us going to the lake at his house, him eating at dinner, just having normal conversations with him. He’s such a relatable guy and an easy guy to talk to once you get to know him. Always cracking jokes, you could tell the players love him. Just being around him, really getting to know him. I love basketball, he played basketball with me. Just stuff like that, great coach, great guy."

Haynes called Saban and Gillespie to inform them of his decision on Saturday, the day before his commitment. With most considering Haynes a Georgia lock, the news came as a shock.

"Coach Gillespie was like, ‘Wow,’" Haynes said. "I think a lot of them thought Georgia. Saban said a thing, he said, ‘That just made my day, to be honest. I did not expect that.’ A lot of them, I don’t think they thought they had a real crazy shot. But they did."

Haynes is planning to enroll at Alabama in January. When he arrives in campus, he plans on fulfilling the vision Gillespie and Saban have for him as the next great running back to wear the crimson and white.

"I like to say it’s me versus me every day, be the best player I can be each and every day," Haynes said. "You can either get better or worse each and every day. My goal every day is to get one percent better. There’s always someone working. You’ve got to outwork that person. I’m going to come in there, just work hard, be humble, just pave my path to greatness."