22 January 2010
This is the most unfortunate part of any off season... saying goodbye to the departing seniors. When that group of seniors have closed their careers by going 26-2 in their final two seasons, capping things off with a national championship; well, it makes it that much harder.
In the next few years we will see senior classes filled with far more talent. There won't be a lot of these guys who will hear their name called during the NFL Draft in April. But their contribution to the history of Alabama football can not be denied.
They leave as champions.
I'll start this off by saying something that might be a bit unpopular among most Alabama fans.
Thank you, Mike Shula.
While this group of guys was certainly affected far more by their three years under Nick Saban and his staff, all but two of them were recruited and signed by Mike Shula and his staff. Coach Saban talks about finding guys with the character and drive to do what it takes to become champions, and that is exactly what these guys posses. Coach Saban and his staff were the ones who molded them into champions, but as we say goodbye to the last group of guys that signed to play at Alabama when Mike Shula was in charge, it's worth a quick nod of appreciation to Bama's former coach. He certainly had his shortcomings as a coach, but bringing this group to Tuscaloosa is a nice capper to his legacy at Alabama.
With that out the way, we'll move on to the things that are more fun to discuss. Specifically the way that Nick Saban and his staff developed these guys, on and off of the field. A championship team must have talent, but it also must have leadership. There were some underclassmen who were great leaders for the Tide in 2009 - Rolando McClain and Greg McElroy to name but two - but a team's senior class will always be where bulk of the leadership comes from.
And make no mistake about it; these guys were developed into leaders by Nick Saban. As I go player by player you'll read about how much these guys improved as players in the last three years. You'll also read about what they did beyond statistics to help lead Bama to National Title #13.
#32 Eryk Anders - LB - San Antonio, Texas
Eryk signed to play football with Alabama a whopping two weeks prior to the beginning of fall camp in 2005. Mike Ford, Michael Ricks, and Antonio Forbes all failed to qualify, which left Bama with an open scholarship. Then offensive line coach Bob Connelly was friends with a high school coach in Texas who recommended a wirey and athletic defensive end, and Anders ended up in Tuscaloosa.
He was such an unknown prospect at the time that the folks at Rivals.com don't even list him as a part of Bama's signing class. In fact, they don't even have him in their recruiting database from that year. When you hear about a "diamond in the rough", don't think of Anders. Hell, he wasn't anywhere close enough to the rough to be from there.
In his first two seasons at Alabama he recorded a whopping eight total tackles. After he didn't play in the Tide's Independence Bowl win in 2007, he seriously considered transferring. His father talking in to staying, shortly before dieing of a heart attack, and in 2008, Eryk finally found his role on the team.
In his final two seasons at Alabama Eryk racked up 94 tackles, with 19 of them being for a loss. He compiled 8 ½ sacks and 24 quarterback hurries. Both of those totals are tops among all of Bama's 2009 players during their career.
And he saved his best for last. In the BCS Championship Game against Texas he had a team high 7 tackles, including 2 for a loss. He had the Tide's lone sack in the game, in which he forced a fumble that Bama converted into a touchdown that iced the game.
He was a guy that completely bought into the system. He never complained about playing time or the size of his role in 2008. Instead, he busted his butt during the off season and held off a large group of players to take over the jack linebacker spot - a role he never relinquished.
Be honest now - how many of you thought Anders would start at the jack? How many thought he would lose his job by midseason to Courtney Upshaw or a healthy Dont'a Hightower?
Just about everyone seemed to think that. Everyone, that is, except for Nick Saban, Sal Sunseri, and Eryk Anders. He started every game of the 2009 season, and played every meaningful snap at the jack linebacker. When Bama went to its rabbit rusher package, he was the guy that was moved around to find the mismatch. And all he did was lead the team in quarterback hurries with 17, and finish second in sacks with 6.
98 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss of 114 yards, 5 forced fumbles, 8 ½ sacks for a loss of 85 yards, and 24 quarterback hurries
Javier Arenas - DB/KR - Tampa, FL
Another player that was unheralded coming out of high school, Arenas signed to play at Alabama exclusively to be a kick returned. Then special teams coach Dave Ungerer had to beg Mike Shula to give a scholarship to the small kid who he thought could make a real difference in the return game. He was a 3-star player at Rivals.com, but his only other scholarship offer came from Florida Atlantic. Rivals ranked him as an "athlete" but did not rank him among the top 100 players at that position. He was deemed by virtually everyone to be too small.
What he lacked in size he made up for in heart, attitude, and confidence.
Ungerer was right about his ability to make a difference in the return game. He ends his college career as the most prolific punt returner in Alabama and SEC history, and fell just 10 yards shy of the NCAA record for career punt yards. His 7 punts returned for a touchdown are the Alabama and SEC record.
It was Nick Saban that saw a defensive back when he looked at Arenas, though. Javy had said to anyone who would listen that he thought that he could play defensive back, but virtually no one would listen. That's saying something in and of itself, because Javy isn't exactly what you would call "quiet."
Under the tutelage of Saban Javy developed enough prior to the 2007 season to become Alabama's "star", the extra defensive back in the Tide's nickel package. He parlayed that into a starting role during the 2008 season at the corner, and earned 2nd team All-SEC honors.
It was 2009 that really saw him come into his own, though. Javy was one of 6 Alabama players who were named 1st team All-American in 2009. And he did it not as a kick returner, but as a cornerback. He finished 3rd on the team in tackles with 71, 2nd in interceptions with 5, and third in sacks with 5.
He leaves Alabama a complete player, who will likely play in the NFL as a corner, who can return kicks as a bonus.
154 tackles, 17 ½ for a loss of 111 yards, 6 interceptions, 14 passes broken up, 7 sacks for a loss of 74 yards, and 8 quarterback hurries.
125 kick returns for 2,166 yards - nearly doubling the Alabama record for yards. His average of 24.1 per return is tied for the 6th best in school history.
90 punt returns for 1,731 and 7 touchdowns - all Bama records. His average of 13.8 per return is the school record.
Terrence Cody - NG - Ft. Myers, FL
Has there ever been a guy quite like this at Alabama? The big fellow was given the nickname "Mount Cody" by Rivals.com writer Chase Goodbread (now with the Tuscaloosa News)... before he ever played a game. His ridiculous size seemed to capture the imagination of the Tide fan base quickly, and his amiable personality made him a hit with everyone who came into contact with him.
Wanna know the best part? The kid can really play, too. There was some fear among fans that he might be the football equivalent of carnival freak. In their minds, there was just no way that a guy who tipped the scales at nearly 400 lbs. (some say he actually weighed in above that at A-Day in 2008) could actually be athletic enough to play in the SEC.
The fact that he's leaving Alabama as a two-time 1st Team All-American pretty much answers any doubts that anyone might have had. The fact that he almost single-handedly (the left hand) beat Tennessee with his two blocked field goals has forever earned him a spot in the hearts of Alabama fans.
What is probably lost on a lot of those fans, is just how hard the big fellow worked during his career at Alabama. He's the one guy on this list that was recruited and signed by Nick Saban, and the coach did so with very strict rules about diet and weight. And Terrence adhered to every single one of those rules.
He and Saban developed a very unique relationship during Terrence's two years at Alabama, one that saw the two sit together on the team bus more than once. In fact, Terrence is probably the only guy on the team who could make a joke about Coach Saban's size and get away with it - in case you missed it, while in California he joked about boosting Coach Saban up to help him get on the bus.
Don't let his enormity fool you at all; this kid works his butt off. And he does so with one of the best attitudes that you will ever run across. He didn't become an All-American by accident. And he won't make an NFL roster as a fluke, either.
There will likely never be another player at Alabama accomplish so much with so little to show on the stat line. His role on the defense was to occupy blockers, so stats were never going to be the true measure of his contribution.
All you really need to know is that he played two seasons at Alabama without ever losing a regular season game. He played two seasons at Alabama and was named 1st Team All-American twice. He played two seasons at Alabama and the Tide finished #2 in the nation in run defense both years.
Perhaps more so than any other departing senior, he leaves a huge hole to fill - both literally and figuratively.
52 tackles, 10 ½ for a loss of 25 yards, and in case you forgot... 2 blocked FGs.
Up next in Part 2 - Drew Davis, Brandon Deaderick, and P.J. Fitzgerald
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