Tiders Are 2 Of 4 Lombardi Finalists

There are a number of post-season awards for individuals who play the team sport of football. One of those is the Lombardi Award, given to the nation's top college lineman or linebacker playing close to the line of scrimmage.

This year the Lombardi Award is down to four finalists, and two of them are Alabama linebackers. That might seem like the odds are against one of the two Crimson Tide players, but that has not been the case historically.

The selection of two players from the Alabama team marks just the sixth time in the 42-year history of the award there have been two finalists from one team. One of the players from the same school has received the award four of the six times this has occurred.

Raise your hand if you are surprised that Alabama's two finalists for the Lombardi are Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw. They were announced by the sponsor of the award, the Houston Rotary Club.

Hightower and Upshaw are joined by Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly and Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin as finalists.

The four finalists were selected from a group of 12 semifinalists in a second round of national voting by the members of the Rotary Lombardi Award Selection Committee. That committee is comprised of nearly 500 voters, including all Division-I head coaches, all past finalists of the Rotary Lombardi Award, and a selection of writers and broadcasters from around the country.

Hightower and Upshaw are the eighth and ninth Crimson Tide players to be named finalists for the Rotary Lombardi Award. They are also the third and fourth Alabama players selected as finalists in the last four years, joining Terrence Cody in 2009 and Andre Smith in 2008. Former All-America linebacker Cornelius Bennett is the only Alabama player to win the Lombardi Award, capturing the honor in 1986.

Hightower, a native of Lewisburg, Tenn., is the emotional leader of the Crimson Tide and leads the team with 55 tackles from his spot a mike linebacker. He has six tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks while ranking second on the team with eight quarterback hurries. Hightower has also intercepted one pass and returned it 29 yards while also breaking up two passes and being responsible for all on-field calls and checks at the line of scrimmage.

Upshaw, a native of Eufaula, is one of the nation's most feared pass rushers from his position at jack linebacker. He has a team-best 12.5 tackles for loss (-57 yards) and 5.5 sacks (-38 yards) while recording nine quarterback hurries. Upshaw has intercepted one pass this year – against Florida's John Brantley – and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. He has 32 total tackles and has forced two fumbles this season while making sacks.

All four finalists and their coaches will come to Houston for two full days of activities, including a community event at the Texans YMCA, the Meet the Finalists Energy Reception, and the Lineman's Private Reception. These events culminate with the Award Show held on December 7, 2011, at the Reliant Center in Houston, Texas. Jim Kelly, Hall of Fame quarterback with the Buffalo Bills, also will be in attendance to receive the Rotary Lombardi Humanitarian Award.

Founded in the weeks following the 1970 death from cancer of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, the Rotary Lombardi Award has consistently delivered upon the mission set forth by Marie Lombardi when she granted the use of her late husband's name. Her only stipulation was that all net proceeds from the event be donated to the American Cancer Society. Millions of dollars have been raised since that time.

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