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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2007
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Nick Saban opened his tenure as Alabama’s head football coach with a 52-6 blowout of Western Carolina.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Nick Saban opened his tenure as Alabama’s head football coach with a 52-6 blowout of Western Carolina.

A new day for Alabama
Freshman Grant gives Tide lift in Saban’s Crimson Tide opener

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — For almost a year, Alabama’s Terry Grant waited for his chance. As an injury sapped the strength in his shoulder and derailed his 2006 season, he worked to rebuild his strength, hoping that he would make it back.

He finally did Saturday during the Crimson Tide’s season-opening win over Western Carolina.

A redshirt freshman running back, Grant started, and on the first play, Grant saw his opening — both literally and figuratively.

Grant took the ball, cut one way, then another and bolted down the field for a 47-yard touchdown run. It marked the start of a day in which he had 134 yards on 18 carries and scored three touchdowns.

“I would say I have been out of it for a while and just coming back, I am happy to have a game like that,” Grant said.

Much of the buzz during Alabama’s preseason practice centered on Grant. Whenever given the chance, Tide coach Nick Saban would laud Grant’s speed and quickness.

After the first preseason scrimmage, it appeared Grant had wrestled the featured tailback position away from Jimmy Johns, who was the chief backup to then-senior Ken Darby last season.

But there was some sort of mystique around Grant’s performance. Alabama’s practices and scrimmages are closed to the public, so any evaluation of Grant came almost solely on Saban’s word.

Grant came to Alabama a highly touted recruit from Lumberton (Miss.) High. One Internet scouting service even declared he was the fastest high school player in Mississippi.

But after arriving at Alabama, Grant missed the final nine games his first season in 2006 with a shoulder injury.

Although he played enough to get two rushing attempts for 22 yards, the NCAA granted him a medical redshirt.

That allowed him to maintain his freshman status for 2007.

On Saturday, Grant proved his coach had good reason to place so much faith in him.

His 47-yard touchdown run was just a sampler. He also had a 1-yard run for a touchdown and a 21-yard run for a score.

Was it the holes created by the offensive line? Was it Grant’s speed? Or was it both?

“Terry hits the holes so fast and as quick as he is, he gets down the field really fast,” fullback Baron Huber said. “We did a great job of playing on their side of the ball. If you give a guy like Terry Grant any room, they can make it happen.”

After the game, Saban mentioned that he wants to find somebody else who can help ease Grant’s burden as the feature tailback. Against the Catamounts, he used Glen Coffee, Roy Upchurch and Johns.

But if Grant maintains his hot start, the second running back may not get much of a shot.

“He is a great space player,” Saban said. “He is very dangerous in terms of making people miss and early in the game we ran those plays for him. The great guys can make those kinds of plays, big plays.

Alabama Monday playback

Three points Alabama should remember after its 52-6 victory against Western Carolina on Saturday.

Forget the 24-hour rule: Tide coach Nick Saban said his teams have 24 hours to either enjoy a victory or wallow in defeat. While a win is a win, Alabama has an SEC game Saturday against an underrated Vanderbilt team. That should have been the focus before the Western Carolina game.

You did play well: Yeah, it was a school from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA), but the Tide executed well and showed intensity. Last year, Alabama had to sweat out games against Duke and Florida International before pulling away near the end.

Nobody is injured: Under former coach Mike Shula, a blowout win normally would mean two things — a victory and an injury. Shula left quarterback Brodie Croyle in too long against the Catamounts in 2004, and Croyle suffered a torn knee ligament. Wide receiver Tyrone Prothro suffered a compound fracture of his leg in the fourth quarter of a 31-3 win against Florida in 2005. Nobody appeared to suffer a serious injury Saturday.

Josh Cooper

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