Alabama

DeAndre Hopkins explains how Clemson keeps producing NFL-level talent

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AP

DeAndre Hopkins explains how Clemson keeps producing NFL-level talent

SANTA CLARA -- The Clemson Tigers came into Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship with a shorter list of 2019 NFL Draft talents than their counterparts, the Alabama Crimson Tide. But not if you ask some notable alumni.

To Houston Texans All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the next wave of NFL stars are Tigers.

“The way they prepare here at Clemson, the strength and condition program, Joey Batson and Larry Greenlee do a good job of getting those guys ready for the next level," Hopkins told NBC Sports Bay Area after Clemson's stunning 44-16 blowout win in the title game at Levi's Stadium. "I think they’re definitely ready for the next level."

Clemson has produced 29 picks in the last five NFL drafts. The last time the program didn't have one of its players called come April was all the way back in 2002.

Watching with former Clemson stars Deshaun Watson, Vic Beasley Jr., Mike Williams, and Tajh Boyd, Hopkins witnessed one of the greatest teams in college football history. The 2018 Tigers accomplished a feat 121 years in the making, becoming the first FBS football team to go 15-0 or 16-0 since Penn in 1897.

“To me, it means a lot. I’m from Clemson, S.C., so to see this team do what they did … I think they are (the greatest ever)," Hopkins said. "I think they can be one of the best teams ever. Do it again next year, for sure.”

The last statement is what means the most to Hopkins and everyone else who once wore a Clemson Tigers jersey. Coach Dabo Swinney took to the podium immediately after the win and said he'll soak it all up now, but he'll get back to film Friday and start preparing for next season.

“I think this is the next dynasty," Hopkins said. "Deshaun Watson started it by winning a national championship here. I think those guys are going to continue it.

"I think they’re gonna be here next year and the year after.”

That's not hard to imagine, either.

Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence wowed with his precision passing, throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. His top target, Justyn Ross, made one-handed catches as a recently turned 19-year-old and finished the night with six catches for 148 yards and two TDs.

Clemson made its fourth playoff clash with Alabama look easy. The biggest names in the NFL know, too, that these could be the next stars of not only Saturdays but Sundays before we know it.

Ex-49er Reuben Foster spotted at Alabama-Clemson at Levi's Stadium

Ex-49er Reuben Foster spotted at Alabama-Clemson at Levi's Stadium

Reuben Foster was back at Levi's Stadium on Monday night.

Foster, who was released by the 49ers in November after his second domestic violence incident, was in attendance to watch his alma mater, Alabama, in the College Football Playoff National Championship against Clemson. He was a star linebacker for the Crimson Tide from 2014 through 2016.

During halftime of the title game, Foster was seen walking with the Tide to and out of the locker room.

The misdemeanor domestic violence charge against Foster in Tampa, Fla., was dropped on Jan. 3, one day before his arraignment. He is currently employed by Washington, but he's on the Commissioner Exempt list.

Washington paid Foster $257,350 over the final five weeks of the season, despite him not seeing the field at all.

The 49ers traded up in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft to select Foster No. 31 overall.

How Tua Tagovailoa was shaped by Bay Area before Alabama QB stardom

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USATSI

How Tua Tagovailoa was shaped by Bay Area before Alabama QB stardom

Long before his heroic throw gave Alabama a thrilling title win last year, long before he was a Heisman Trophy finalist for his sensational sophomore season, and long before he led the Crimson Tide back to the national championship as the man in charge this year, Tua Tagovailoa had Bay Area roots.

It all started years before the Alabama quarterback even was born.

Galu Tagovailoa, Tua's father, lived off Petaluma Hill Road in Santa Rosa while playing for a junior college that has produced multiple Division I quarterbacks. Galu had his hand in the dirt, though.

Even as a freshman in 1989, Galu was considered a leader on the Santa Rosa Junior College defense as a top lineman. He played at the school for two years, until 1991.

Galu's football career ended there but not by choice. He didn't have the chance to play at the next level like so many other Bear Cubs, even some who went to the NFL, like former second-round draft pick Koa Misi. Instead, Galu had to come back to Hawaii and help his family financially.

When asked Saturday at College Football Playoff National Championship media day, Tua made it clear his father has kept his playing days to himself. "No he hasn't. He really hasn't," he said when asked if Galu has talked to him about playing football at SRJC.

Seven years after Galu left Santa Rosa, Tua was born, and quickly, a quarterback prodigy was being developed. As early as 2 years old, Tua would go to the ocean with his father but not for your ordinary day at the beach. 

"We would go to the beach to train," Galu said in an ESPN segment that also revealed he wrongfully hit Tua with a belt after he threw an interception.

In high school, Tua's rise really started in Oakland.

At The 2016 Nike Opening, a showcase for the area's top high school talent, Tagovailoa flew in from Hawaii and showcased his talent, as did future Alabama teammate Najee Harris, an Antioch High School star. Tagovailoa's arm strength and accuracy were on full display.

While in the Bay Area over that May weekend, Tagovailoa even visited Cal. 

Because of that impressive showing in Oakland, Tagovailoa earned an invite to The Opening Finals and the Elite 11 Finals, the two most prestigious events for high school quarterbacks. He won MVP honors at both of them. 

That weekend in Oakland sparked a huge next few months for Tagovailoa before his senior season at St. Louis High School in Honolulu, where he led the Crusaders to the state championship. 

[RELATED: Alabama NFL draft prospects 49ers, Raiders fans should watch]

So, while Hawaii made Tagovailoa, the Bay Area is a close second, even if he grew up rooting against the 49ers. Those same roots are following him to Monday night's title game against Clemson at Levi's Stadium. 

"There's a lot of family out here in the Bay Area," Tagovailoa said Saturday, with reports of hundreds representing him at the game.

Tagovailoa was raised on Ohana, but expect that same family to get hella loud when the left-hander tosses his first touchdown pass against the Tigers.