Photo by Danny Parker

Alvin Kamara, once an Alabama player, shines now for Tennessee

Alvin Kamara was part of a large contingent of Alabama running backs in 2013

There is an unattractive tendency on the part of some college football fans to cast players who transfer out of a program to play at another school as traitors. Transferring in, though? Not so bad. How much did Alabama benefit in its 2015 national championship season from quarterback Jake Coker (transfer from Florida State)?

The sentiment was ramped up at Alabama this year when redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Barnett, who started in the Crimson Tide’s opening game, left the program after four years to find greener pastures.

It happens. Luke Del Rio at Florida and Alec Morris at North Texas were former Alabama quarterbacks who were starters at their new teams to begin this season.

And this week Alabama’s defense may have its hands full with another former teammate in Tennessee tailback Alvin Kamara. Although technically a backup to the Vols Jalen Hurd, Kamara started last week in Tennessee’s double overtime loss at Texas A&M when Hurd was left in Knoxville to recuperate from injuries. Kamara responded with 288 yards of total offense (18 carries for 127 yards and 8 pass receptions for 161 yards) and three touchdowns (2 rushing, 1 receiving). He also returns punts and kickoffs.

In ninth-ranked Tennessee’s 5-1 season, Kamara, a 5-10, 215-pound redshirt junior, has 56 rushes for 292 yards (5.2 yards per carry) with two touchdowns; 20 pass receptions for 253 yards and three touchdowns; and 16 punt returns for a 7.8 average.

So why isn’t the Norcross, Ga., native still at Alabama, where he was part of the 2013 signing class?

It’s all about playing time. Here’s what Kamara was looking at as he redshirted in his first season:

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He was joined in that signing class by Derrick Henry, who would win the Heisman Trophy at Bama in 2015 – his only year as the Bama starter.

Also in that signing class were running backs Altee Tenpenny and Tyren Jones.

And in addition to the newcomers, Kenyan Drake was a sophomore, Jalston Fowler a junior, Dee Hart a sophomore, and T.J. Yeldon a sophomore.

That was pretty stiff competition.

Kamara went to Hutchinson Junior College, where he was outstanding, and then transferred to Tennessee, where he is playing his second season. In last year’s 19-14 win over the Vols in Tuscaloosa, Kamara had 5 carries for 21 yards and caught 4 passes for 44 yards.

This week, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, “Alvin, to me, is an outstanding player. I think he's got great speed, he's very instinctive. He's a very good receiver, very good at running the ball inside or out and uses his speed to his advantages on the perimeter. He has been just dynamic this year. This guy is a fantastic player who has a lot of production and certainly is used well in their offense, relative to making it difficult to defend him.”

Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen was a Kamara teammate in 2013 and remembers him as a great teammate.”

Allen said that when teammates leave for other schools, “Honestly, I’m happy for them. If they left, they felt that they would have success anywhere else, and when they do have success I’m always happy for them. I have no hard feeling towards them personally.

“Playing against (Kamara last year), he’s definitely an explosive running back. He’s dangerous, and we’ve got to do a good job of containing him this week, having a couple of guys rally around the ball.”

Allen admitted his hopes for Kamara success don’t extend to Saturday when Alabama takes on Tennessee in Knoxville. (3:30 p.m. EDT, 2:30 Central, CBS). He said, “Of course, you don’t want anybody to have success against our defense, so we’re going to prepare the week right and do what we have to do to have a good defensive performance this Saturday.”

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