Almost from the first moment he lined up to take a snap on the grassy turf for the old Monongah High School, untested sophomore Nick Saban displayed his mettle as a leader. Decades before he gained national prominence by capturing two national crowns in three years as Alabama’s head coach, young Saban took over for a struggling high school team and never lost a game in his maiden season. "He was a team leader," recalls state Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, one of two speedy tailbacks Saban fed the ball to on a running club. "Just think about it. Most kids that were sophomores can’t find their way around the locker room. This kid was coming in and taking over a team. Somebody had to be in charge on the field. And for a sophomore to take over in the second game of the season for a team that had a lot of potential, to come into that huddle and demand the respect, it was just amazing. He was a real field general."
Upshaw decided to use his name to create The 41 Fund — 41 being his jersey number at Alabama — to help raise money and supplies for those afflicted. "A lot of people lost their homes and needed supplies," Upshaw said. "I always told myself if I was ever to make it [in the NFL] that I would start something for little kids. But when the tornado hit, it gave me the opportunity to use my name for something. We ended up raising a lot of money and a lot of stuff that people needed."
No. 2 Alabama was just hours away from its first practice since Friday's 4-3 victory over the Wolverines when seventh-seeded Tennessee (52-12) rallied with two runs in the Sunday elimination game's sixth inning against Georgia to set up its matchup Thursday with the Crimson Tide (55-7). First pitch for Thursday's game, the third of four on the WCWS' opening day, is set for 6 p.m. ESPN2 will carry the broadcast. "It's a respectful rivalry," Reilly-Boccia said. "Tennessee has always been a very classy team. (Coach) Ralph Weekly has conducted himself with a lot of respect and class.
At least two and as many as three SEC teams will make the trip this year, but No. 2 seed Alabama (55-7) carries the heaviest burden of expectations. It was a win away from playing for the title a year ago before conference rival Florida embarrassed the Tide. Consecutive losses by a combined score of 25-4 ended Alabama’s 53-11 season. But this is a different team with a unique chemistry that’ll stare down those demons this week. A streak of eight straight wins has the Tide hotter than anyone in the country. "I really think this is Alabama’s year," said Jessica Mendoza, an Olympic gold medalist, ESPN commentator, and Stanford graduate. "I foresee them in that championship team and it’s going to be against a Pac-12 team, whether it’s Cal or Arizona State. It’s going to be another SEC/Pac-12 faceoff."
"I think the video is great, but making the video is half the fun," she said. "It's so much fun to spend time with your teammates like that and get away from softball a little bit and do something creative and fun. It was fun for me to edit because I get to see my teammates goofing off. "It's cool. It shows that our team is more than softball. We have a good time together and just about every single person made it." Braud returns as a senior next season. As the chief editor, she knows she will have to find a way to top this year's video. "We've got to up it every year," she said. "We upped it this year and we're going to do something big next year. We've just got to figure out what that is."
Gut-check time: You just know the Nov. 3 date has been circled on LSU's calendar since January. The 21-0 beatdown at the hands of Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game remains a sore subject on the Bayou. The players insist that loss has driven them even harder, particularly the fact that LSU picked that game to lay its only egg of the season. One of these two teams has won three of the last five national titles. Alabama proved last season that losing the regular-season matchup doesn't necessarily end your national championship hopes. The chances of that happening again are remote, though, which only raises the stakes this coming season when Alabama and LSU clash in Tiger Stadium.
The Alabama men's golf team is the No. 2 seed at the 2012 NCAA Championships. The Crimson Tide is making its sixth trip to NCAAs in the last eight years under the guidance of head coach Jay Seawell and its 14th overall. The 2012 NCAA Championship tees off on May 29 and runs through June 3 at the Riviera Country Club, a par-71, 7,292-yard layout in Pacific Palisades, Calif. There will be three rounds of stroke play for the 30-team field with a cut to eight teams after 54 holes. Those eight teams will begin three rounds of match play for the national title (1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6, 4 vs. 5). The Tide is making its second straight NCAA Championships after finishing 14th in 2011 at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla. In 2012, UA features National Player of the Year candidate Justin Thomas, a freshman, along with sophomore first-team All-SEC selections Cory Whitsett and Bobby Wyatt as well as second-team All-SEC choice Hunter Hamrick. Junior Scott Strohmeyer, who is averaging 71.83 strokes per round over the last four events rounds out the Tide lineup.
My sixteen seasons in the National Football League saw a system that I feel genuinely cared for the players, as long as they were employed and as long as they were with your team. Like it or not, clubs respect the on and off field accomplishments of their opponents, but really don’t worry themselves at all about the eventual outcome of any player or his problems outside of their own. Professional football really doesn’t slow down long enough to allow for it. This isn’t necessarily true with the fraternity of professional players. The cross connection of collegiate competition and movement through free agency has kept the player pool close. But for a League tasked with managing, caring for, disciplining and guiding individuals, that the majority don’t know personally, it’s a difficult and arduous task. Clubs must take it upon themselves to act a bit like "parents", taking charge of the process of helping young players grow and develop from draft day to retirement and beyond.
Someone needs to talk some sense into them. For McClain and Fairley -- if he's proven guilty like McClain -- maybe a hefty fine and suspension from the NFL will make them realize what they're squandering. For Dyer, don't seek an NCAA waiver for him to play immediately this season with Gus Malzahn at Arkansas State. For all of them: Grow up already. There's nothing funny about any of this.
Corruption, fraud, violence, injury, death. The ruin of college football was complete by the end of the century. The 19th century. The rest of its history has been the gold-plated accounting of a long-running hit. It can reasonably be said that American college football has never been more popular. Or more profitable. It can just as well be said that college football hasn't found itself under such a sustained assault by the wider culture since 1905. From the New York Times to the Atlantic magazine, from talk radio to The Journal of the American Medical Association -- and from institutional corruption and front-page scandal to epidemic head injury and academic fraud, from bowl game graft and performance enhancement to rampant professionalism and moral bankruptcy -- the criticism pours out while the billions pour in.
To others, he's a breath of fresh air, and unlike a lot of coaches who are programmed to the point of being robotic, Spurrier will say whatever's on his mind. "I think most coaches in football and basketball are too serious about everything. Everything is life or death," Spurrier said. "Very seldom do you see me upset about what some other coach says. I can't ever remember being upset about something coach (Phillip) Fulmer said or anybody else. "Of course, he didn't say much."