Shaud for Heisman!

In retrospect, it seems such a silly error, a snub of epic proportions. <br><br>It was a Sunday afternoon, early August 2001, and a group of reporters (including yours truly) had gathered inside the University of Alabama football building's Crimson Tide Suite to gather information and fawn over Dennis Franchione's first Alabama signing class, which was reporting that afternoon.

For an hour, we talked with such supposed luminaries Marquez Dupree (the son of all-time great Marcus Dupree) and Parade All-American Mike McLaughlin, asking them their hopes and dreams for what they hoped would be solid Crimson Tide careers.

Off to the side, sitting by himself on a couch, sat a smallish man with a thin layer of hair barely covering an otherwise shaved head.

Who is this guy? I thought to myself, making my way over to him. He looks lonely, I thought. Maybe he's a walk-on. Well, I'll make him feel at home and be friendly.

I introduced myself, and, almost by way of apology, asked his name.

"I'm Shaud Williams," he replied with a friendly, unassuming tone in his voice.

"Nice to meet you," I replied, introducing myself, wondering to myself who the heck he was and why he was here.

I really don't remember what I asked him after that, only remembering that he was a transfer, and almost immediately forgot whatever else I learned from him.

Shaud Williams carries the football versus Tennessee. (Associated Press)

That day, we asked Franchione questions about virtually all of his signees, from Brandon Brooks to Charlie Peprah. But no one asked about Williams -- and if he made any newspapers the following day, it was with a passing mention in the notes column.

What fools we were. Two years later, it is painfully obvious that the Class of 2001's best recruit was the one we all ignored.

Three games into the 2003 season, Williams has become a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate. He averages 122 yards rushing and two touchdowns per game, and is the workhorse the Crimson Tide offense revolves around.

In so many ways, he is the heart and soul of the Crimson Tide, a consummate team player who constantly defers praise to his teammates and away from himself.

But perhaps more importantly, he is a good person. Teammates and coaches speak glowingly of him. He does every interview asked of him, be it surrounded by a pack of reporters and television cameras after a game, or simply crouching on the practice field on a random Tuesday afternoon, talking to some out-of-town reporter who wants a piece of his life.

Or, random children. Tuesday, he was surrounded by the tiny brood of special teams coordinator Dave Ungerer, three little boys strong.

"Shaud! Shaud!" they yelled. "Shaud, we saw you against Kentucky!"

Patiently, Williams let them dance around, looking every bit as interested in them as he was in the just-concluded practice.

Seconds later, they followed their father into the football complex, waving goodbye as if he were their best friend.

That's just the kind of guy Shaud is. Last Saturday, he'd just rushed for 174 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries, carrying the Tide to a tougher-than-expected 27-17 victory over Kentucky.

It was one of the best moments of his tumultuous college career, and he had every right to savor it. Instead, he shifted the focus -- once again -- to his teammates.

When sophomore quarterback Brodie Croyle (who'd just finished an average night, throwing for 195 yards and an interception) walked in the room, Williams lifted his head.

"Brodie Croyle for Heisman!" Williams yelled with glee as he saw Croyle enter the interview room. "Brodie for Heisman."

As Croyle turned crimson, Williams kept yapping.

"Yup, I beat you to it," he cackled. "Brodie for Heisman."

Forget that at that very moment, he was leading an online poll at voteheisman.com, where fans can cast an official vote for the Heisman.

BamaMag.com is pleased to feature regular columns from Greg Wallace, one of the most talented writers on the Bama beat.

An avid sports fan whose job "just happens" to give him a seat in the front-row, Wallace is entering his third year writing for the Birmingham Post-Herald. He is a 2000 graduate of the University of Iowa, where he was a journalism and history major.

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Just before he politely deflected questions about his own budding candidacy, he pumped up Croyle. That's just Shaud.

He wouldn't promote himself, but Croyle gladly did.

"If any player in the nation means more to their team than Shaud Williams, I'd like to see who he is," Croyle said. "In my eyes, he should be up for the Heisman."

While Williams' Heisman candidacy is a longshot, it would be ultimate validation for a player who has been through five offensive systems and five head coaches in five years.

While more heralded players like Dupree, McLaughlin and others have disappeared into college football's dark night, Williams stuck around. Hung through Franchione's departure. Sobbed through Mike Price's departure.

And proved himself over and over again.

Maybe one of these days, we'll all stop doubting Shaud Williams.

The sooner the better.


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