Lowe hopes to return

Last weekend's opening-game loss to the UCLA Bruins was tough on the players. After having prepared all summer for the intersectional showdown, the Tide was clearly hoping to gain a measure of redemption for last year's losing record, with a win on national television. <br><br>But for fullback Donnie Lowe, forced to sit out due to a concussion suffered the previous week in practice, just standing on the sidelines was hard. "I was holding back tears, because I wasn't even dressed," he said.

"During pre-game warmups I wanted to be out there so badly. It was hard for me to stand on the side like that. You can say words of encouragement, but I wanted to be able to help them out on the field."

At the beginning of Fall Camp, Lowe was solidly entrenched No. 1 at fullback and was apparently an important part of Bama's new offense. But one scrimmage play dealt those plans a temporary setback. "It wasn't an exceptionally hard hit," Lowe related. "I mean it wasn't one of the hardest hits me and the linebackers have had."

Lowe has a reputation as a hard-hitter himself, but in that instance he was the one asking afterwards for the license plate of the truck that just ran him over. "It was either Victor Ellis or Brooks Daniels, because I hit them back-to-back. Really, you can't tell on film that anything happened, because I walked off. I looked fine, but I can't remember any of that. A total blank."

After being moved from defense to fullback at the beginning of spring, Lowe quickly picked up the position and gained a reputation with the new coaches for his fundamentally sound play.

The concussion occurred just before the final week of game preparation, and Lowe was held out of all contact during game-week, causing him to miss his team's season opener. Versus UCLA the Tide utilized Marvin Brown exclusively at fullback. But the junior participated in only 15 snaps as a blocker only, as the Alabama coaches went with two-back and one-back formations and ran out of the shotgun for much of the game.

But though held out of heavy contact, Lowe returned to practice this week and hopes to be able to play versus Vanderbilt. "The doctors have been very careful," he explained. "Pretty much they're taking no chances. I prepared for over ten months, and each passing day (sitting out) has been worse. I want to get back out there and be able to hit again. I don't want too many more of those standing-on-the-sideline things, when I'm not able to help my team out.

"But I'm fine now. Everything is better."

During his true freshman season in 2000, Lowe played in every game as a reserve at middle linebacker, getting 182 snaps in all. His best game came against Mississippi State, when he had four tackles and a fumble recovery.

So Lowe was there in California with the team and witnessed first-hand as the air was let out of Alabama's balloon in that disheartening Rose-Bowl defeat. "I'm on a different side of the ball now," said the former linebacker turned fullback. "So I can't say specifically how that was different. But I think we have a more focused approach this year. The outcome was the same, but our attitude afterwards was a lot different. There was a tremendous letdown (last Saturday), but it wasn't the same as last year. Then we were (rated) No. 3 in the nation. That was a big letdown. But now we're keeping our focus.

"Coach Fran told us that one game doesn't make or break your season. He told us that Vanderbilt is next. It's an SEC game, and that makes them more important."

Last year's loss to the Bruins was a blow from which the team never recovered, but Lowe believes this season will be different--or at least it had better be. He explained; "It's important that we regain our focus after a loss. Vanderbilt will be pumped up. They got upset by MTSU, and they're going to be fired up and ready to go. We've got to go in there with the attitude to win and take care of business."

A native of LaVergne, Tennessee, Lowe was recruited out of high school very hard by the Vandy coaches. So he knows better than most how important the Bama game is to the Commodores. "I think a lot of the guys on Vanderbilt's team were not recruited by Alabama," Lowe said. "And a lot of them are from the same recruiting area as players that go to Alabama. I really don't know what it is, but they always seem to play us tough."

While Vanderbilt is normally at a clear disadvantage in a talent matchup with other SEC schools, Alabama usually gets them early in the season, making depth less of a factor. "The SEC is the type conference where you're going to get beat up during the year," Lowe agreed. "So that could be part of it. But I think they're just hyped and ready to go. They'll be even more pumped up, especially after their loss a week and a half ago."

In years past Alabama squads seemed to always underestimate the Commodores, making for close, down-to-the-wire contests. And fans are anxious to see if Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione can change that unwelcome dynamic. "This staff is very organized," Lowe said. "I know a lot of people have heard about that, but it's even more than they know--how organized and goal-oriented they are. Their organizational abilities just amaze me. They get things done. How they organize, how they manage. They're goal-specific."

Shown making an over-the-shoulder catch in practice, Lowe's return to action should signify an increased role for the fullback in the Bama offense.

That ultra-organization allows the athletes to stay focused on what's important. Lowe explained; "It makes things more clear for us. It helps us identify exactly what we need to do, what we want to do. It allows us to set our eyes on what needs to be done."

Unlike previous head coaches at Alabama, Franchione arrived with an extensive track record as a successful head coach. "Their instructions are backed up by what they done before--by what they've done at TCU and by what they've done at his previous places," Lowe said. "When they show us something new or diagram a play, they've got film to back it up to show that it works. On special teams or on offense, that can really be seen. There's really no question about what they want you to do.

"You're certainly not questioning the system or anything like that."

That new system was first installed last spring, and almost every day in his post-practice comments Franchione had something good to say about Lowe. Heading into spring drills, there were serious question marks surrounding the fullback position, but Lowe's performance laid those to rest.

With Franchione, it's all about trust and accountability, and the coaches clearly saw something they liked in their sophomore fullback. Explained Lowe; "They want to be able to trust everybody that they put on the field. They don't want to worry ‘Does he know what he has to do?' They don't want to worry ‘Is he going to get it done?' If they trust you, then you're even that much more comfortable, because you know they trust you."

And how can a player earn the coaches' confidence? "You prove it every day in practice and in every-day things," Lowe replied. "School, your social life, things like that. It doesn't end."

Of course that's precisely why his injury was so frustrating--anything that takes Lowe away from football is unacceptable. But as doctors have come to understand, concussions and their aftereffects are not to be taken lightly. "There were about 20 minutes where I was totally out of it," Lowe admitted. "And then it was two to three hours before I had good memory. On film it looked like a helmet-to-helmet hit.

"I just need to remember that football is my sport--not boxing."


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