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Alabama coach Nick Saban will coach his first game in Tuscaloosa on Saturday when Western Carolina visits.
AP photo by Rob Carr
Alabama coach Nick Saban will coach his first game in Tuscaloosa on Saturday when Western Carolina visits.

Saban, players ready
Tide fans get first real look Saturday at new coach's program

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — It was so long ago that linebacker Darren Mustin couldn't believe it. Quarterback John Parker Wilson had to stop for a second before he started talking about it.

Alabama's last win came on homecoming, a 38-3 drubbing of Florida International on Oct. 28. The Tide then lost its final four games of the season, en route to a 6-7 record.

But with Nick Saban now the coach, none of that seems relevant anymore. At least that is what the players said as they started game preparation for the first match-up of the Saban era, an evening contest against Western Carolina at 6 Saturday.

"Last season is over with," Wilson said. "We are looking forward to this season. We have worked hard to get to where we are, and we are ready to go show it."

After Saban was introduced as coach of Alabama on Jan. 4, the circus began. First the Internet recording of Saban using a derogatory term toward people from Louisiana. Then came Alabama's A-Day game, which brought more than 92,000 people to watch the team scrimmage. Possible recruiting violations in Florida, a potential game against Notre Dame in the future, fewer tickets for faculty — Saban's every move this offseason has been under a microscope.

This past week, Saban was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Center Antoine Caldwell said he doesn't read magazines, so he didn't know about the story, though an enlargement of the cover is in front of the door leading into the media room at the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility.

With all the hype, the players can't believe that the first game of the season is just a few days away.

"At the beginning of the summer, I was like 'Man, this is never going to get
here,' " said cornerback Simeon Castille.

"It seems like it took a long time to get to this point."

Wide receiver DJ Hall predicted that more than 92,000 fans will show up for the game.

Not a small feat, considering that Bryant-Denny Stadium seats 92,138.

Despite the hype and hoopla surrounding the start of the Saban regime, defensive end Wallace Gilberry brought up a good point.

Said Gilberry: "Football is football."

That is a theme that has been drilled into the players' heads.

The new group of coaches stepped in without a depth chart and had the players compete for positions throughout the spring and preseason.

Saban has often said that while he respects the tradition of Alabama, he does not dwell on the past, and that even goes back to the 2006 season.

Saban often has been adamant about not letting external factors affect his team's preparation, and for this week, it has been no different.

If the coaches are feeling edgy with the first game coming up, they are not showing it to the players.

"I think they do a good job of holding it in," Hall said. "You know they are excited. You can tell that everybody is excited from the speeches they have given."

And while it may sound cliched, even with this season opener, Saban and the Tide are taking it one game at a time.

"Every game is the most important game because it's the game you are in this week," Saban said.

"That's how we look at it. That's how we've always looked at it. This is the most important game on our schedule. This is the most important game to me."

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