'Just keep playing hard'

With all the injuries and inopportune penalties that have plagued the Tide this season, it's tempting to think that Alabama is snake-bit. But defensive tackle Ahmad Childress is having none of it. <br><br>"It makes you think that sometimes; the ball just bounces the wrong way," he acknowledged. "But we know if we keep playing hard that it will turn around."

With no championship or post-season bowl game to play for, this year's Tide team has had to rely solely on heart. "We just keep our head up and keep striving," Childress continued. "We need to learn how to finish ball games."

Many fans ascribe to the unforgiving bromide "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." But athletes quickly learn that there's also honor in doing your best. "Sometimes you can give everything you have for 60 minutes and still end up with a loss," Childress said. "We never give up fighting. The coaching staff never gives up. The ball has just bounced the wrong way sometimes."

Childress' position coach, Buddy Wyatt, points out that injuries have also been a problem. "Ahmad needs to get healed up form the stingers and all the small injuries that go along with playing a season," Wyatt said.

Ahmad Childress (#95) helps make the tackle versus Oklahoma. (Barry Fikes photo)

"Dealing with the injuries hurts me, because I think I should do more for the team," Childress related. "If I get frustrated, my best friend Derrick Pope will remind me that the nagging injuries will eventually heal. My wrist, my ankle, my neck... We'll overcome it all.

"My injuries are getting better. The old Ahmad is coming back."

Slated to start and anchor the interior of Bama's line, Childress has too often been limited this year by one injury or another. "It would have been tougher to deal with as a freshman," the fourth-year junior said. "You've got to have a strong mind and a strong heart. Give all you've got, and put it in God's hands."

An athlete masquerading as a defensive tackle, Childress is still learning to play with his hand in the dirt. Wyatt explained, "Ahmad was so athletic and big in high school, he played a lot of different positions, he may not have had the opportunity to work on the little things at one position. At junior college he was there for one season and came here. And he's had different coaches at Alabama, so he had a learning curve."

Childress remembers when he first arrived on campus back in the fall of 2002. During pre-season camp he battled Jarret Johnson and Kenny King for playing time, and got schooled every day in practice by offensive linemen Marico Portis and Alonzo Ephraim. All four players are now drawing a paycheck from the NFL.

"My ‘B game' wasn't nearly good enough," Childress recalled with a laugh. "I had to bring my ‘A game.' Now this coaching staff is bringing me along. With this staff I can have a bright future."

Based on size and speed alone, Childress has pro potential. But he's still learning to play defensive line. "I sometimes have problems playing too high," he admitted. "If you get high, you've to still play strong. Doing that, you'll be alright. But if you stay low you can dominate."

"He's a skilled kid," Wyatt said of Childress. "We just need him to get more flexible and work on changing directions better. If he does that then he will have worked tremendously hard over the summer and in the off season."

Childress' rank 12th best on the squad. He also has one sack and four quarterback hurries.

After Childress and Anthony Bryant, Bama's next three defensive tackles are all youngsters. Redshirt freshmen Jeremy Clark and Kyle Tatum and true freshman Dominic Lee have talent, but all three need seasoning. "We're like the big brothers of the group," Childress said of himself and Bryant. "We tell them to keep their heads up. Keep fighting no matter what."

All summer Childress encouraged Clark and Tatum in the weight room, explaining that "it takes a man to play defensive tackle." He's continued to mentor them during the season. Childress said, "Sometimes you get physical with them. Other times you have to sit down and talk to them and explain everything. ‘It's not going right for us, but keep your head up and keep fighting. Give it everything you've got.'"

If Bryant can "earn back" his fourth year of eligibility by graduating before next September, then the Tide would field five talented and experienced athletes at the defensive tackle position.

"It takes at least a year to get used to (playing defensive tackle)," Childress said. "Next year Dominic and Jeremy should dominate. Now that they've got a year up under their belts, all the butterflies should be gone. Next year they'll be able to hang with anybody."

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