Crimson Tide's senior class persevered
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- In its past 28 games, Alabama has lost just twice.
It's the kind of run nobody takes for granted, not even the Crimson Tide, who have their sights set on a national championship Thursday (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) when they take on the Texas Longhorns in the Citi BCS National Championship Game.
For Alabama's seniors, specifically the ones who were around during the darker days, it has been a long and winding road to get to this point.
But they wouldn't trade that journey for anything, nor would they trade what they've experienced along the way.
"You can't write it up any better," said cornerback/return specialist Javier Arenas, who epitomizes what this Crimson Tide senior class is all about.
"It's something we're going to notice after the season when we look back on it as seniors. We're going to pride ourselves on it. It will make us better as people, not just playing football, but better as people because you know what kind of hard work you put in and know the results if you do that. It's a special time for the seniors."
Arenas came to Alabama pre-Nick Saban. The same goes for offensive guard Mike Johnson, linebackers Cory Reamer and Eryk Anders, defensive ends Brandon Deaderick and Lorenzo Washington, kicker Leigh Tiffin and the rest of the senior class with the exception of noseguard Terrence Cody and tight end Colin Peek. They transferred in after Saban was already running the show.
"When you go through what some of us went through, you definitely appreciate this a lot more," Reamer said. "You take advantage of every practice and every game."
The Crimson Tide lost 13 games combined during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, which included a losing season in 2006. That was also Mike Shula's last season. He was fired after a 22-15 loss to Auburn -- at the time Alabama's fifth straight to the Tigers -- and Joe Kines served as interim coach during the 34-31 loss to Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl.
"That was the low point," Johnson said. "Coach Shula was already gone, and Coach Kines was coaching us. We lost that game, and we all knew that was it, that we weren't going to be with those coaches anymore. We were telling each other goodbye, and that was tough. I didn't know where I was going from there. They were the only coaches I'd known in college. We were coming under a different regime and didn't know what to look forward to.
"We were all full of questions and had no answers."
The answer was Saban, who brought his rigid way of doing things and track record for winning championships to town in 2007.
There still would be some rough stretches. The Crimson Tide ended Saban's first regular season with four straight losses, although they rebounded to beat Colorado in the Independence Bowl.
"The main thing is that we bought in, the guys that are seniors now and the guys that are the leaders on this team," Johnson said. "It took us a while to get used to doing it the way Coach Saban wanted it done, but you could see where we were going."
Where they were going was the first back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons in SEC history since Bear Bryant did it in 1973 and 1974 at Alabama.
And, more importantly, to Alabama's first shot at a national championship since its last one in 1992 under Gene Stallings.
"We've been through so many coaches, coaching staffs, everything," Washington said. "I remember signing here and people asking, 'Why are you signing with Alabama when they're [just coming off] probation?' A lot of us seniors came from out of state, too, but we all stuck through it, and now we're getting ready to play for what every college football player wants to play for."
Indeed, one of the common denominators with most of these seniors is that they came from different parts of the country, and lot of them weren't highly recruited.
Washington is from Logansville, Ga. Arenas is from Tampa, Fla., and Johnson is from Pensacola, Fla. Deaderick is from Elizabethtown, Ky., and Anders is from San Antonio.
Arenas was down to Florida International and Florida Atlantic until Alabama offered him a scholarship the week before signing day. Johnson said he didn't really have anybody recruiting him when Alabama offered, and Anders received no interest from any of the big Texas schools.
"It's been a long haul," said Johnson, who, like Arenas, earned first-team All-American honors this season. "You say this is what you thought was going to happen when you signed. But at the same time, it's a different coaching staff, and you really couldn't see this happening a couple years ago when the coaches we signed with got fired.
"We didn't choose Coach Saban as a coach. He was with the Dolphins when we all signed, but we bought into his system. We adapted and picked up and went with it, and that speaks volumes for the guys in our class. We all wanted the same thing, to win, and I think it's all going to pay off here at the end."
Chris Low covers college football for ESPN.com. You may contact him at Espnclow@aol.com.
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