April 17, 2010
By Creg Stephenson
It would be hard to imagine any trio of Alabama football players who accomplished more in terms of individual accolades than Javier Arenas, Rolando McClain and Mike Johnson.
All three were first-team All-Americans in 2009, and multiple-time All-Southeastern Conference selections during their careers with the Crimson Tide. All three were key contributors to Alabama's 2009 BCS National Championship team, and all three are certain to be high draft picks in the NFL Draft later this month. But before that happens, Arenas, McClain and Johnson will have their moment in concrete prior to the Crimson Tide's A-Day Spring Game. The three will cast their hand and footprints alongside their names at Denny Chimes as Alabama's permanent team captains from last season.
"You can't write it up any better, you know what I mean?" Arenas said. "I think it's something that we'll notice when we look back on it, `Dang, look how that happened.' We're going to pride ourselves on it, and it will make you a better person in the future. Not playing football, but as a person because you'll know what kind of hard work you put in, and know what the results are if you do that (work hard). It's a special time."
Arenas came about as far during his Alabama career as any player ever has. He came to Tuscaloosa in 2006 as a lightly recruited return specialist (Alabama was the only BCS conference offer he received out of Tampa's Robinson High School), and left as one of the top defensive backs in the country. Arenas was named first-team All-SEC as both a cornerback and a return man in 2009, after achieving second-team honors as a return specialist the previous year. He ended his senior season with 70 tackles, five sacks and five interceptions, including one in the closing moments of Alabama's 37-21 BCS Championship Game win over Texas on January 7.
But it was for his otherworldly return skills that Arenas will always be remembered. He set the school and SEC career marks for punt-return yards (1,752) and touchdowns (7), and came within 10 yards of setting the NCAA record. Despite his brilliant career, Arenas has already turned the page. "I think when you play on a team like this and you develop the same characteristics of working hard and never accepting anything less than what you're capable of, you're so focused on the next thing and trying to get better at doing something," Arenas said. "That's the position I'm in. I've got a lot of things to focus on, finishing school, training and getting ready to move on to the next level. I'm so focused on that that I don't really have time to look back; because that would mean that my football career is over when you start looking back. There is a lot more to be done."
McClain was a star from the moment he first suited up at Alabama, winning a starting job early in his freshman season of 2007. The Decatur native leaves Tuscaloosa with an armload of awards and accomplishments, including Freshman All-America (2007), first-team All-SEC (2008 & 2009), SEC Defensive Player of the Year (2009) first-team All-America (2009) and two trophies given to the country's top linebacker, the Butkus Award and the Jack Lambert Award. McClain led the team in tackles his last two seasons, including 105 stops in 2009. He declared for the NFL Draft as a junior, and is considered a lock to be a mid-first-round pick later this month. "The University of Alabama has been great to me these past three years," McClain said. "I came to school with the goal of being a first-team All-American, winning the Butkus and winning a national championship. I've accomplished those goals, and I think I'm going to leave the University pretty satisfied with what I've done here."
Johnson continued a long line of top offensive linemen for the Crimson Tide, and should join past greats such as Justin Smiley, Evan Mathis, Antoine Caldwell and Andre Smith in the NFL next season. The Pensacola, Fla., native was a two-time All-SEC selection and a first-team All-American in 2009, when he helped pave the way for Crimson Tide running back Mark Ingram to rush for a school-record 1,658 yards and win the Heisman Trophy. Versatility and durability were two of Johnson's biggest attributes as an Alabama player. He played in all 54 games of his Crimson Tide career (starting the last 41) and started at four different offensive line positions: left guard, left tackle, right guard and right tackle. "It's just amazing," Johnson said. "I looked at Rolando next to me during the (Jan. 16 national-championship) celebration and I just said, `This is crazy'. It just shows that if you put in so much effort and hard work, it really pays off for you. I really honestly feel like we've worked harder than any other team this year. That's why we were able to come out on top. It was about putting in the hard work and it's crazy to see where we've come from."