Former walk-on's role increases

A general policy of not commenting on most injuries during the season, means Alabama fans may or may not be given an update on Shontua Ray. But the strong safety's absence from much of the season-opener, coupled with Dennis Franchione's comment that Ray had "a loose particle floating around in his knee" makes it obvious that former backup Waine Bacon's role will increase for the next several games. "Waine really came in and did a nice job when Shontua went down," Franchione said yesterday.

After an excellent spring followed up by a solid Fall Camp, heading into the UCLA game Bacon was set as the primary backup at strong safety. But a loose piece of cartilage caused Ray's knee to lockup in the first half, and Bacon suddenly found himself playing in front of 83,000+ in Bryant-Denny Stadium and millions more on national TV. "As a player that's what you want," Bacon said. "You like to be put in the spotlight, to be put in a place where you can perform. You want to be able to show your talent. That's what you live for."

"I went into the game knowing I was going to play, but it was a surprise at first," Bacon continued. "Obviously I didn't know he was going to go down, so I didn't think I was going to play that much. But that's what we've been out here for. Spring practice, two-a-days and the week of preparation that we had--that's just what all of that is for. Get ready just in case. It happened. I was shocked a little bit and rattled, but I adjusted to the flow of the game quickly."

After toiling in almost complete obscurity for three seasons, Waine Bacon's hard work is paying off with first a scholarship and now an increased role in the Tide defense.

As teammates working at the same position, Bacon and Ray are good friends, but during game action there isn't much time for sympathy. "In the heat of the game you don't actually have time to be concerned," Bacon explained. "But it's in the back of your mind. You really don't worry about it until after the game.

"When I saw him on the sideline with ice on the knee I asked him what was going on. But during the game you can't worry about it too much. You just hope everything is OK."

The original plan was for the more experienced Ray to get the lion's share of snaps, but to work Bacon in on several series to gain seasoning. That's precisely how Safeties' Coach Ron Case handled the Free Safety slot, where starter Reggie Myles played primarily with backup Charles Jones handling four series. But Ray's knee forced a change of plans. "(Waine) got probably more snaps than he wanted to get in the game," Case said. "But I think it paid off for him. He certainly got a lot of experience going into the next game."

Interestingly, when combined with his sixteen plays on special teams, Bacon wound up participating in more plays than any other defensive player on the team. "He did an adequate job," was Case's conservative assessment. "Waine made a lot of mistakes, but the only one that was critical was he should have been in on (Deshaun Foster's) long (40-yard run late in the game). Waine's alignments need to improve, but he was very active. He made tackles, and he was around the ball."

The stats' sheet lists Bacon with three tackles, including one for a loss. And Bacon agrees with his position coach that he needs to improve. "I thought I played an all-right game. It could have been better assignment-wise. I just need to play more physical against the power backs we'll face. (Deshaun) Foster was good, and we're going to face a lot more in the SEC."

Bacon (#24) and Reggie Myles (#23) will likely start at safety for Alabama versus Vanderbilt.

Though he competed in the Night of Champion weight-lifting exhibition last spring, Bacon admits he isn't as powerful as Ray. But for a defensive back, power isn't always the way to go. "You have to be physical, but it comes to the point where (your job) is just to bring (the runner) down to the ground," Bacon explained. "Sometimes that can be more effective than trying to be physical. When you've got a big, powerful back that knows he can out-power you, but you're constantly bringing him down to the ground, that'll take away from his game. It'll get to him in his head."

But though containing Foster was sometimes a problem, Bacon points to the Tide defense's relative success against UCLA's passing attack as a positive. For the game the Tide DBs only gave up 123 yards passing, and Bruin All-America candidate Brian Poli-Dixon caught nary a pass. "Our secondary can play really well," Bacon said. "We shut down Poli-Dixon. We went into the game saying we had to do two things. Stop Deshaun Foster and Poli-Dixon. We could have contained Foster a little better to slow down their offense. He made some big plays, and he ended up hurting us."

Having participated in a total of 71 snaps (only Strong Guard Marico Portis played more), Bacon obviously fills a vital role on the team. But one short year ago he was a little-noticed and never-used walk-on defensive back--virtually ignored by the previous staff. "It gives me joy inside, because I used to feel like I wasn't as much a part of the team as the starters and other players," Bacon related. "It makes me feel good to know that I've worked hard, and all my hard work didn't go in vain."

In fact, Franchione recently announced that Bacon had been awarded a scholarship, a decision that was met with great joy in Bacon's hometown of Forrestville, Maryland. "I called Mom right away," Bacon related. "She was relieved. That's $15,000 out of her pocket with out-of-state tuition. She's been fighting for me to stay in school, what any mother would do for her child. A lot runs through your mind. It's a lot of money involved and a lot of responsibility on me."

With the second-highest vertical jump on the squad, Bacon is one of Bama's best athletes. But it's taken the former walk-on three seasons to find a coaching staff that recognized his talent.

After spending three seasons as a complete unknown, the long-awaited recognition was definitely satisfying. Bacon explains; "I had a meeting with Coach Fran in his office, and basically he told me how hard I had worked and how impressed the whole coaching staff was. They took a vote, and all the coaches were in my corner. So they awarded me a scholarship. I felt really good about it, but I didn't let it go to my head. I didn't want it to affect my performance."

"I expected it, but when it came down to it--when Coach Case told me there was going to be a meeting to decide, then the butterflies started. I was nervous. I'd be in class thinking about what they were going to say. I was anxious to ask, but then I was scared to. I was working out one day, and Coach Case said "today's the day we go to war for you." I was completely out of it for the rest of the day. But it all worked out well."

Despite playing a solid game versus the Bruins, nobody on the Tide team is satisfied with the loss--least of all Bacon. But at the same time he firmly believes there is a world of difference between this season and 2000. "Last year's loss to UCLA kind of set the tone for a season of disappointment, but this year we have a whole different chemistry--a whole new staff and an entirely different philosophy. We're going into the Vanderbilt game confident. We learned a lot about ourselves in the UCLA game. We fought hard the whole game; we didn't give up.

It's a new mindset and a new attitude. And it all begins at the top. "Coach Fran was very pleased with our effort and the way we played," Bacon said. "Now we're going into Vanderbilt carrying something over. We know that if we fight for four quarters and don't take any plays off--just keep pulling each other together. Cheer the offense on, cheer the defense and special teams, then some of those close games like that will be coming our way."


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