TUSCALOOSA, AL - APRIL 17: Coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide talks with defensive back DeMarcus Milliner #28 during the Alabama spring game at Bryant Denny Stadium on April 17, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Dave Martin/Getty Images)
"They were supportive from the start and when we weren't so good. I think that was something that really contributed to recruiting," Saban said. "The first A-Day, when there were (92,000) people there or whatever, it was really heartfelt by the Sabans. It really made us feel welcome here. We had gone through some tough times in getting here, leaving Miami and all that. So we really appreciated that." The top five A-Day attendance figures ever have come the last five years since Saban took over the program, and 2012 is expected to crack the top five as well.
After two national championships in three seasons, it’s almost inconceivable to think that Alabama might actually have a few positions of instability heading into a season. But it’s true. Thanks to injuries, position experimentation and plain ol’ graduation, there will be several areas of interest for patrons to watch Saturday. Here’s a brief rundown.
1. Is Jalston Fowler the real deal?
The incentive for players to perform as if Michigan, the Crimson Tide's first real opponent in 2012, is on the opposing sidelines remains unchanged. Winning team eats steak for dinner. The loser settles for beans. The game could be played behind closed doors, and that'd be enough for sophomore safety Vinnie Sunseri. "Everybody wants to eat steak at the end of the day," Sunseri said. "You always want to be better than your brother," sophomore linebacker Adrian Hubbard said. "You're just trying to beat them."
Another near-capacity crowd is expected to pile into Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday for the University of Alabama’s A-Day game, which will be Nick Saban’s sixth spring game since taking over as head coach for the Crimson Tide. In his five previous seasons, Saban has compiled 55 victories and won two national championships, and he knows that his team’s success each year hinges on spring practice and the annual spring game. "A lot of the success that we have had here is attributed to that great tradition, and every one of those individuals contributed to that," Saban said."We want this to be a great weekend for them, as well. I'm really looking forward to the game."
When Alabama entered the spring, Saban was in a half-glass-full kind of mood. Even the offensive line -- arguably the Tide’s greatest strength heading into the fall -- had a harsh dose of reality to temper any compliments. After the first scrimmage of the spring, he harped on the need for more depth to back up the first line that features four returning starters and all five with significant playing experience. "When I say we need more guys to learn what it takes to play winning football, that would be one of the positions that I’m talking about," Saban said two weeks ago of the line. Fast-forward to Thursday and the sixth-year head coach couldn’t help himself again. "I think the offensive line really had a good spring and played very well," Saban said. "We've got a lot of experience. We've got a lot of games started by those guys, a lot of competitive character in that group, a lot of physical. We don't have a lot of depth but I think that that's going to be the real focus as we continue to try to create depth at that position."
Vinnie Sunseri doesn’t wear the same colors as his dad anymore, but that doesn’t change their relationship. Well, not too much. Sal Sunseri is now the defensive coordinator at Tennessee after coaching Tide linebackers for three seasons. They still talk all the time, but the younger Sunseri misses seeing his father on the practice field in Tuscaloosa. When they talk, football comes up. "He asks how practice goes," said Vinnie Sunseri, a safety and rising sophomore with the Tide. "I ask how practice goes. I’m still his son and he’s still my dad. I just try to talk to him like that." So there’s no trash talking? "No, we joke around," Vinnie Sunseri said. "I’ll say he doesn’t look good in that orange, and he’ll say I don’t look good in that crimson, just little jokes like that."
Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said Sunseri, converted from a linebacker, improved dramatically last season. "Vinnie wore lots of hats last year. He lined up and played special teams. He was an all-type role in the secondary," Saban said. "For a guy who hadn’t been a defensive back, he did a marvelous job to be able to evolve and do those things. "This year he’s playing more safety and just not playing those roles. He played at star, money and safety – and that’s a lot on anybody’s plate – but he’s making good progress and continuing to improve."
With fewer homes receiving the live telecast and nice weather forecasted, crowds could near the record 92,310 who saw last season’s scrimmage. Those who watch on television can expect a more relaxed broadcast compared to a regular season game. "You’re talking even more than usual about players than you are about the game itself," said Stewart, also the radio voice of the Alabama men’s basketball team. "The outcome is something very few people outside of the players themselves will remember for a couple weeks after they get the winners’ meal and bragging rights."
"I always thought, coaching in the NFL for eight years and being used to playing exhibition games, if we were going to play a game that would get you more ready for the season, maybe you'd play an exhibition game before the season started if somebody wanted to talk about that. I've never mentioned that. I don't think it's necessary. I think we have a good game the way it is." Why change? "There's a lot of competitive games out there," Saban said. "The league is great. The fact that we play in a competitive venue every year is great for our fans, somewhere outside of our league."
The University of Alabama football team will travel to Washington, D.C., next Thursday to meet with President Obama in the White House. Alabama will be honored for the 2011 Bowl Championship Series national title. President Obama will also recognize the UA team for giving back to the Tuscaloosa community after the April 27 tornado. Alabama's reception is set for 1:20 p.m. CT.
The second ranked Alabama softball team bounced back from a first inning deficit to score nine unanswered runs to knock off South Carolina, 9-1, in five innings in front of 3,265 fans at Rhoads Stadium Friday night. With the win, Alabama improves to 38-2 overall and 15-2 in Southeastern Conference play and earns its 800th victory in program history. South Carolina drops to 23-21 overall and 3-14 in SEC action. After giving up a leadoff home run to open the game, Jackie Traina shut down South Carolina the rest of the way, giving up just three hits and striking out seven batters to win her 26th straight decision dating back to last season, and improved to 24-0 on the year.
Former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said Friday that he won't appeal his firing and seek any of the $18 million buyout that was part of his contract while the university put his ex-mistress on paid leave following the revelation of their affair. Petrino's agent, Russ Campbell, sent an email to Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long late Thursday saying Petrino has accepted "responsibility for the events that led to the university's decision to terminate his contract." "Coach Petrino and his family wish nothing but the best for both the Razorback football program and University of Arkansas," Campbell wrote.
If we've learned anything this past week, it's that for all his Xs and Os acumen, former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino wasn't very bright in other aspects of his professional life. He clearly didn't read rule No. 6 of my Cheating for Dummies guide, and he certainly didn't grasp the fact that hiring his mistress might expose the school to so much civil liability that Arkansas couldn't keep Petrino no matter how many games he had won. Arkansas received 159 applications for the Student-Athlete Development Coordinator job Jessica Dorrell got. Had he hired any of the other 158, Petrino could have kept his job. After sifting through the resumes of all the applicants, it's obvious Petrino could have made a great hire, kept his action on the side and -- most importantly -- kept his job. Besides, how do you not at least call back the person who sends a cover letter with the following opening sentences? My name is Yusef Johnson. After a 14-year career working in NASA's Mission Control Center, the end of the Shuttle Program is upon us.
LSU has hired North Texas [head basketball] coach Johnny Jones for the same position with the Tigers. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva made the announcement on Friday night. He says he is pleased to welcome Jones back to Baton Rouge, where he played and was an assistant coach for the Tigers. Jones played in the 1981 Final Four for then-LSU coach Dale Brown, then was one of Brown’s assistants with LSU’s 1986 Final Four squad. Jones will replace Trent Johnson, who left LSU after four seasons to become TCU’s head coach.
Birmingham police announced tonight the arrest of former University of Alabama and NFL football player Saleem Rasheed on charges related to engaging in sexual acts with two students at Woodlawn High School. According to police, Rasheed, 30, was a teacher at Woodlawn when the incidents took place.