SHREVEPORT, La. University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, senior defensive end Wallace Gilberry and senior wide receiver DJ Hall met with members of the media at the 2007 PetroSun Independence Bowl Media Day Saturday morning at Independence Bowl Stadium. The Crimson Tide held its walk-thru at Independence Bowl Stadium on Saturday afternoon in helmets, shorts and shoulder pads as the team put the final touches on its game plan for the matchup with Colorado slated for Sunday, December 30, at 7 p.m. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN.
Here are Coach Saban’s comments from the Independence Bowl Media Day:
“On behalf of our players and the entire staff, I’d like to thank the PetroSun Independence Bowl committee and all the people in Shreveport-Bossier City, who have certainly made our stay an outstanding one. We have had a great time so far; the hospitality that we have received has been fantastic. Everybody has made us feel at home and very welcomed here. That’s something that probably goes unnoticed a little bit, as I’ve said sometimes, in terms of how gracious everybody has been in making our stay extremely pleasant.
“I’ve been very pleased and happy with the way the team has practiced and prepared and what they have invested in this game. We had outstanding practices at home and the focus has stayed very positive since we have been here. It's a little more challenging once you get to the bowl site with a lot of external things going on. I’ve been pleased that when it’s football time, we’ve focused on the football and gone out and executed what we are doing. I think we have made a lot of improvements as a team. A lot of young players have improved. I like what the players have invested, in terms of their effort for this game.
“From an injury standpoint, I think everybody will be ready to go. We’ve talked about (returns specialis/defensive back) Javier (Arenas) and every now and then he tweaks his ankle a little bit, but really he’s looked explosive and quick. (Running back) Terry Grant continues to fight his hip. (Defensive back) Justin Woodall has made a recovery and I think will be okay for the game. I think we are healthy. I think that is a real positive for us. I think we are at full strength.
“It’s a great opportunity for everybody in this game. This is a defining game for every guy on this team. We have two seniors up here (Gilberry and Hall) and a lot of other seniors who have an opportunity to make a great impression, relative to their future. Every young player can send a message for what he wants to accomplish in the future as a football player at the University of Alabama as well as the kind of program and kind of team we want to have in the future at the University of Alabama.
“We are certainly facing an outstanding team in the University of Colorado. For them to put 65 points on Nebraska in the last game and have a tremendous win over Oklahoma and Texas Tech on the road certainly speaks volumes for what Coach (Dan) Hawkins has done there, in terms of developing his program, who they are and the kind of football team they are capable of being. It’s going to be a real challenge for us to effectively stop their offensive team, which has scored a lot of points in some games. It’s going to be certainly a challenge for us to get back on track offensively against their defense and make the kind of plays and score the kind of points we did in the first six, seven, eight, nine games of the season, which we certainly practiced that way with a lot more confidence and lot more swagger in what we’re doing and hopefully that will help us. In bowl games there are two things, explosive plays and turnovers, that have a huge impact on the outcome of games. Tackling on defense is really critical to not giving up explosive plays, but skill players making great plays is what happens when you make explosive plays and we have some guys that can do that. I think those two things have a tremendous impact on every game, but especially in bowl games.
“We are excited about being the only college football game on ESPN tomorrow night. It’s an opportunity for our players to play in front of a national audience and we are really looking forward to it and excited about it. This has been a great experience for us and we have really enjoyed it. Again, I’d like to thank everyone here that has anything to do with this bowl game for creating a wonderful atmosphere and environment for us to enjoy in our stay here.”
What do you mean by defining game?
“Well, I’m not talking about for us. I said for every player on our team. Whether you’re a senior, maybe it’s for different reasons or an underclassman. Everybody has a different reason for this being an important game. I guess the key thing is nobody really benefits unless they play really well.”
Is this a defining game for you?
“No, it’s not defining. We’re building a program and will continue to build a program and regardless of what we learn about ourselves in this game, we are going to continue to build this program in the future.”
What was one of the challenges Colorado presents as you prepare for this game?
“I think the biggest thing is some of the things they do on offense, they do a little bit using the “Z” to create some three-back runs, which is a little bit different key progression and adjustment for the secondary and perimeter people. One of the things they have done an outstanding job of all year is getting people out-flanked, relative to the formations and adjustments you need to make on defense. I think offensively some of the problems they create for our offense is the multiple things they do really in third down situations. That’s when there is a lot of pressure, a lot of different things and we are going have to be sharp about picking all of that stuff up if we are going to be a good third down team in this game.”
Have you learned anything about this team or yourself this week?
“I learn something about myself everyday. I think one of the great opportunities about this bowl game is that I learned about our staff in this bowl game and I learned a lot about our players in this bowl game. It gives you an opportunity to develop relationships with people. I never saw this guy (DJ Hall) dance before and he never saw me dance. He is a hell of a lot better dancer than I am. To me it’s all an opportunity to develop relationships, to do things together. That’s one of the things that creates a lot of team chemistry, that people have time to spend together and they develop relationships together and they develop a better understanding of what you’re thinking and a better respect for each other, which I think is critical in developing team chemistry. I think this trip has been great for that. The same thing can be said from a staff standpoint. So, I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been wonderful and I’ve learned a lot about a lot of people and I always learn a lot about myself.”
What are some of the gratifying things about college football?
“There are a lot of challenges in building a program. I read somewhere the other day some one said, and he was speaking about America and I am just speaking about our team. we always talk about choices and decisions and how it affects people being successful in their life. I think the way it was stated was the hard right or the easy wrong.’ One of things that I really enjoy about all of this is to see the progress and improvement a lot the players on our team have made throughout this season, not only as football players but as people. How they manage their lives. How well they do in school. What their opportunity to be successful in the future is going to be, relative to the lessons they learned this season. The good things that happened in this season and the bad things that happened in this season are all learning opportunities for all of us. I see a lot of maturity and I see a lot of guys putting themselves in a better chance of being successful in the future because of some of the thoughts, habits and priorities that I see them developing in how they manage their life and their academics in school and how they go about their preparation as football players. I think we want to continue to build on that and I think that is most self-gratifying to me that I really enjoy. The spirit of it all, the fans that we have, and the tradition; those things are all things that are special in college football and I enjoy those things as well.”
People talk about championships and winning and losing, but after reading your academic report this week, you had the best semester ever. How gratifying is that for you?
“It’s one of the things that we are referring to; guys making better choices and decisions of what they do and don’t do, so they have a better chance to be more successful in what they choose to do. Academics is certainly a part of what we want them to do well in at the University of Alabama. It’s very positive, and a lot of people made that happen, it’s not just me. We have a great academic support staff. We have a lot of people that contribute to that. Everybody in our organization is there to help the players be successful as people and students and help them develop as football players so they can be champions and someday win a championship and we want to help them launch their career when they leave. This is these guys’ (Gilberry and Hall) last game and when they move on, we want to help them launch their careers so they get great opportunities in life and use all the resources we have at our great institution.”
You had 92,000 at your spring game and sold all 12,000 tickets to the bowl game. What does that say about your fans and their support of your program?
“I think the fan support that we have had has been phenomenal. But I also think that positive energy on everybody’s part with our fans have certainly been extremely positive throughout this season. It is important to the long-term success of the program and our fans have certainly done their part in every regard and our players appreciate it and that is something that our fans should understand and know just how important it is to our players to receive that positive support. I certainly appreciate it.”
How soon do you start looking at next season after this game?
“I’ve already thought quite a bit about it. (On January 2-4) we will certainly do a lot of evaluation, relative to quality control. We will give most people in the organization the opportunity to give some feedback on how we can do any part of our program better. So that will start January 2nd. I think about it a lot. We will start to put it in action when we get back and get rolling again.”
Senior Wide Receiver DJ Hall
On earning a bowl berth in 2007:
“Everybody knows that if you make a bowl it’s a blessing. There are a lot of teams in this conference that didn’t go to a bowl game. It doesn’t matter which one you go to, if you make it to one, just know that you are blessed to be in a bowl game because a lot of teams didn’t make it, so we are fortunate to be one that made it.”
On setting more Alabama receiving records:
“That’s not me. I’ll worry about that after the game when you tell me what I did about them. As far as leading up to the game, I don’t worry about the records I've got or what it’s going to take for me to break them. All I really worry about is what we have to do to win, to execute on offense and keep the defense and special teams pumped up on the sideline when the offense isn’t on the field. As far as the records go, that’s not my concern until after the game.”
On what bowl games the team thought about earlier in the season:
“Kind of like Coach said earlier, when we were 6-2 guys bought into the system a whole lot better. We felt like we could accomplish something special. You could honestly tell that guys had a different mindset towards the way we were doing things, but towards the end we kind of went down hill and things didn’t turn out the way we wanted to. But everything happens for a reason and we ended up in Shreveport so we are going to make the best of it.”
Senior Defensive Lineman Wallace Gilberry
On using the bowl game as a learning experience:
“Without a doubt, just like Coach (Saban) said, when you are doing things together that you normally wouldn’t do, it brings out the best in a lot of people. Throughout the ups and downs we’ve gone through this season, I’ve learned at the end of the season that there are a lot of guys on this team that are willing to tough it out and go through all of the practices and conditioning even with all of the talk about a plummet at the end of the season to try to end the season on a positive note. That speaks volumes about a lot of people on the team.”
On making a bowl game this season:
“You really don’t want to make comparisons, but each year teams either get better or get worse. We’ve had a great time down here in Shreveport, the hospitality has been great. We’ve always had something to do back at the hotel that as a unit has brought out the best in some people, but at the same time we have fun. It’s a blessing to be here and I’m quite sure that Colorado feels the same.”
On concerns with the Colorado offense:
“Nothing really concerns me because I feel that we are definitely prepared for whatever they are going to throw at us. But at the same time, like Coach said, they do a lot of things on offense to try to outflank us and get on the corner. So for me personally as a defensive end, we’re going to try to apply a lot of pressure and rush the quarterback early, but at the same time they have a great running back, so if we can contain them we will be pretty good.”