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FRIDAY, AUGUST 3, 2007
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Crimson Tide loses Walton, Ricks
West Morgan's Walton receives medical hardship; Courtland's Ricks academically ineligible

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama football players reported to campus Thursday for the beginning of preseason practice, and the Crimson Tide already has lost two with local ties from its roster.

Alabama coach Nick Saban announced that former West Morgan High standout Byron Walton's career could be finished because of a health issue. In addition, Saban said former R.A. Hubbard player Michael Ricks of Courtland is academically ineligible.

Ricks spent the past two years at Northeast Mississippi Community College.

Saban put Walton on medical hardship because of a recurring issue that has plaguing the 6-foot-3, 299-pound defensive lineman throughout the summer. Saban said he has been told that it is a heat-related issue.

"When he exerted himself at the level to do the things you need to do here, he put himself at tremendous risk," Saban said. "It has something to do with how your muscles break down and how your body dissipates that and how it affects your kidneys and liver. It is a serious issue."

Walton will continue to receive his athletic scholarship, but he will not count against the NCAA limit of 85 scholarship players that Alabama has. Saban said three receivers also will receive medical hardships for this season — Tyrone Prothro (leg), Aaron McDaniel (knee)and Jake Jones (leg).

Walton called West Morgan head coach Pierre Coggins earlier Thursday and left a message on his answering machine.

Coggins said he didn't remember the name of the problem but said it was "something about (Walton's) muscles wasting."

In 2006, his freshman season, Walton played against Florida International and Louisiana Monroe.

He had one tackle against Florida International.

Walton made The Decatur Daily's all-area team as a defensive lineman as a senior.

Walton made the all-area squad as an offensive lineman as a junior.

As for Ricks, Saban said he doesn't have a plan for him.

"That doesn't mean that something couldn't happen that he might get back on the radar screen, but that's for him to prove that he's willing to do and wants to do," Saban said. "He had an opportunity to go to junior college and he knew what he needed to do."

On Thursday, Saban welcomed 105 players who are allowed to go through preseason practice. Schools are limited to 105 until school starts.

The group that reported included former Decatur High linebacker Rolando McClain and former Athens High defensive tackle Alfred McCullough. They are two of the 21 incoming freshmen who arrived Thursday.

Freshman defensive tackle Nick Gentry of Prattville wasn't on the Tide's 105-player roster because he is continuing to rehabilitate a shoulder injury.

Kick returner Jonathan Lowe was not on the roster, because of what Saban termed "academic issues."

Saban said that walk-on senior linebacker Darren Mustin has been placed on scholarship.

Crimson Tide players went through a battery of tests Thursday.

According to Saban, they went through several strength and conditioning drills to make sure that they were in shape for the coming season.

"Players are given points, and we evaluate the guys who did the best on each one," Saban said.

"They understand what it is, and that is the most important thing."

That would be getting in shape and being ready to play when the season starts.

Saban said the team has made plenty of strides during the summer to get in shape for the rigors of the upcoming season.

"We might look at some freshmen in different spots," Saban said. "I don't think there is anything right now we are experimenting with. We don't have a depth chart.

"Somebody has to be first team; somebody has to be second team."

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