GAINESVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 01: Dont'a Hightower #30 of the Alabama Crimson Tide attempts to tackle Chris Rainey #1 of the Florida Gators during a game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on October 1, 2011 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Hightower, the 6-foot-4, 260-pound junior who lost most of his 2009 season due to major reconstructive knee surgery, waved it off like it didn’t matter. But the more he spoke, the more animated and passionate he became. "As a whole, we don't really too much care about it," he began. "It would look good in a trophy case, it would feel good or whatever. … "We don’t really care about the Butkus or the Lombardi or the Nagurski, all those would have been one to have under your belt. But we all just kind of have that one picture of the BCS National Championship ring. We all want that. Outside of those awards, we realize the big picture. "I was pretty upset. I’m not going to lie. That happens. But we all got what we wanted – January 9 – so we’ve got to go out and get it."
"This could be a totally different type of game," said Tide coach Nick Saban, who led LSU to a Sugar Bowl win at the Superdome after the 2003 season for a share of the national title. "There's so many good players on both sides of the ball for both teams. "There's so much opportunity for this game to play out completely different and have a completely different flavor than the first game."
Alabama running back Trent Richardson said the Crimson Tide's upcoming battle with LSU for the BCS National Championship will be a "slugfest." He pointed out some of the things the John Chavis-led defense does well. "Everything they do is for real," Richardson said. "Their fronts are fast. Their linebackers aren't scared to come up. Their safeties are going to come up and make tackles."
But entering his Jan. 9 Alabama curtain call in the BCS title game, Chapman isn't the decorated centerpiece of this decorated defense. His job is to clog the middle and eat up blockers to spring the All-America linebackers behind him to feast on the opposing backfield. "He's not going to woo you in stats with a lot of sacks and all that," said Propst, now the coach at Colquitt County High in Georgia. "That's not what he does. He's a gap-control, big, strong defensive lineman who holds the point in their defense. And I think it has a lot to do with the success of what they're doing. Obviously, he has to play well."
Off the field, according to UA coach Nick Saban, Fluker has been a model teammate and a strong representative of the program. "I don't think he's ever been in my office one time in the years he has been here that he didn't do, or try to do, the right way," Saban said. "He doesn't miss class, doesn't get into trouble, doesn't have issues off the field. He has a lot or respect for coaches and people in positions of authority. He really tries to do things right and is very respectful."
Chance Warmack is the latest to announce his intention to return to Alabama's football team next season. The Crimson Tide's starting left guard explored making an early jump to the NFL. "I talked to my parents about it, and we discussed it," Warmack said. "I'm pretty much gonna be here for another year. I like teammates, I love them to death. I love the program. I still feel I have a lot of stuff to do as far as developing as an offensive lineman. I want to help the team one more year."
With one practice left, Warmack said Thursday he was looking forward to returning to Atlanta for the holiday weekend. Top priority? Spending time with mom, dad and his little brother. "We're real close," Warmack said. "He's always asking me questions about being (at Alabama). I like being around him, and helping him as much as I can."
Inevitably, one player offered his reaction to the news his head coach was scared of the man in the red suit. Alabama defensive lineman Damion Square was asked about it Thursday. "That is very surprising," Square said. "I think he had it misunderstood. I think Santa Claus was scared of him."
Watching game clips chopped into various forms has become vital in the pursuit of victories. It's not only a proven tool for studying opponent tendencies, but also for mopping up internal mistakes. "One of the first things that we do after every game that we play is things that we did well, things that we did poorly, preparation errors that we made, mental errors that we made, how we would correct those things," Saban said. "And that's after you watch the film of the game and you see the positives and the negatives. And the first thing we do when we play that team again is we kind of pull that out and review it so that we have a chance to improve on it."
Stephenson coach Ron Gartrell is considering banning several colleges from coming on campus to recruit his players. The DeKalb School is one of the country’s top producers of football prospects this year with 10 seniors committed to FBS schools. Stephenson was up to 12 this year, but two players recently had their scholarships revoked – OL Nicholas Gibbons with Memphis and RB TJ Moon with Florida Atlantic – after the colleges changed head coaches. "When we talked to the new coaches, they had the same line — ‘Sorry, but we’re moving in a different direction,’" Stephenson assistant Corey Johnson said. "With both young men committed to each school for so long — and being only a month away from signing day – we feel like the commitments should’ve been honored the new staffs. It’s not really fair to the kids." Johnson said coaches at several other DeKalb County schools feel the same way about how their players were treated by other colleges. Johnson said they are considering joining together to draft a letter that will publicly both express unfair recruiting tactics and identify specific colleges.
"The most memorable game I've had this year, I've got to say, was Auburn, because after the first couple of hits, everybody (on Auburn's defense) was just backing up," said Copeland, a sophomore from LaGrange, Ga. "They didn't want to hit at all. ... Before I got to them, they just fell down and just laid on the ground," Copeland said. Some of those broadcasting the game also observed that Auburn defenders sometimes seemed to shy away from contact with Copeland. "I actually said, 'C'mon man, you're better than that. C'mon, hit me,'" Copeland recalls. "That was like the only game I went home and had no nicks and bruises at all."