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THURSDAY, JANUARY 4, 2007
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Alabama fans, from left, Trisha Crawford, Pam Phillips and Sarah Kilgore celebrate as an airplane carrying Nick Saban lands at the Tuscaloosa County Airport in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday.
AP photo by Michelle Williams
Alabama fans, from left, Trisha Crawford, Pam Phillips and Sarah Kilgore celebrate as an airplane carrying Nick Saban lands at the Tuscaloosa County Airport in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday.

Area Tide players thrilled Saban joins Alabama staff

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

Leave it to college students to be asleep at 9 a.m.

Several Tide players with local connections were sleeping when the news reports broke that Nick Saban was leaving the Miami Dolphins to coach the Alabama football team.

"Friends sent me like 20 text messages," said wide receiver and Hartselle High graduate Nikita Stover.

"I then turned on ESPN and waited for the owner of the Dolphins to come on TV."

Quarterback/defensive back Trent Dean, a former Decatur High standout, also said he was asleep when a friend called him to tell him the news.

"I got a phone call, which said it wasn't official," Dean said. "I saw the owner of the Dolphins talking about it."

Also, add graduating defensive back Eric Gray to the list.

"Early morning, one of my old friends from high school called and woke me up, and he said you got a coach now," said Gray, a former West Morgan star. "He said, 'Saban,' and I said 'Oh, for real?' "

All three players seemed thrilled at the prospect of having someone with national championship credentials lead the Tide program. "I'm hoping it can open everything up," Stover said. "Maybe I can get to start and stuff now."

Under the Shula regime, Stover saw limited game action, but he emerged against Auburn with five catches for 101 yards and a touchdown.

According to Stover, Saban recruited him coming out of high school. Now Stover feels that his relationship with the new head coach will be a positive.

"I heard he's really hard-nosed and he doesn't play games," Stover said. "I'm looking at it like as long as we're going to have someone who's going to pass the ball more. That's what can make us different."

Gray and other players said they still felt for the assistant coaches who more than likely will not remain on the Alabama staff.

"You can't help but have an emotional tie to it," Gray said. "We have developed a close relationship with them and their families. I wish them the best. I would love to have them back. We know the odds are small."

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