New face emerges at D-Tackle

It's hard enough to convince quality linemen in-state to walk on, but those willing to pay out-of-state tuition for the privilege of playing for the Tide deserve special praise. Surprising to some, junior Rudy Griffin is now running second string at defensive tackle.

A native of Hepzibah, Georgia, Griffin originally signed with the Citadel, starting 10 and eight games as a freshman and sophomore respectively.

"I started off in college at the Citadel and played two seasons down there," Rudy Griffin said. "But growing up it was always a dream of mine to come here and play for The University of Alabama."

Not since David Daniel has a former walk-on earned his way into the playing rotation at tackle, but Rudy Griffin (#58) is currently running second string.

In high school Griffin was a team captain for Hepzibah High School, winning the Golden Helmet Award presented to the best athlete with the highest GPA. He was also honored as an ESPN "Hometown Hero."

It was actually Griffin's affinity for the Tide that ended up leading him to the Citadel. He had been recruited by the Tide during the 2000 season, but when Bama changed coaches he fell off the Tide's radar screen.

Former Tide defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson ended up taking the head coaching job at the Citadel, and he was happy to recruit Griffin to his new team.

Griffin explained, "That's one of the reasons I went to the Citadel. Coach Ellis Johnson was the defensive coordinator at Alabama under (Mike) DuBose. When he left and went to the Citadel, that was the biggest reason I went there."

Griffin played and played well for two seasons at the Citadel, but he never forgot his original dream. So last season he bit the financial bullet and joined the Tide squad as a walk-on.

As a transfer, he was forced to sit out the season.

"It was tough, but that's just one of the things you've got to do if you want to fulfill your dream," Griffin said.

Ineligible to play on Saturdays, Griffin spent the entire season working on Alabama's scout team. Some athletes might have become discouraged, but not him. Not hardly.

He's a tad short, but Griffin combines strength and quickness at the position.

"Last season was extremely valuable," Griffin explained. "I got a lot of good work on the scout team going against the first-string offense. That's one advantage of being on the scout team. You go against the first offense every week. You try to make it count.

"Being on the scout team turned out to be an advantage for me."

For fans that haven't seen him play, Griffin provided a brief self-scouting report. "I'm a hard-working lineman. I try to play with a lot of intensity. There are always things you need to improve on, but I try to bring effort and intensity.

"For the fans that don't know me now, hopefully they'll get to know me."

Other candidates will arrive in the fall, when this year's signing class joins the squad. But right now Griffin has climbed to second-string on the depth chart at one of the defensive tackle positions.

"There's not much to say about that," Griffin commented. "I just need to work hard and keep doing what I'm doing out there."

Were the Tide to play tomorrow, senior Anthony Bryant and sophomore Jeremy Clark would be Bama's starters with Dominic Lee as the first man off the bench. But without question Griffin has helped fill out the Tide's depth chart at the position.

"That's another reason why I transferred here," Griffin explained. "I thought there would be a good opportunity to earn some playing time. I saw they had a lack of depth, and I thought I could come and help out and contribute to the team."

Despite being a little-known walk-on, Griffin said he was welcomed by his teammates. "Jeremy (Clark) and ‘Bear' (Anthony Bryant) have been really helpful," Griffin revealed. "That was especially true last year when I had to sit out. They'd show me techniques and work with me."

Griffin (#58) and Jeremy Clark (#99) run drills together last fall.

Griffin laughed and acknowledged that like every high school defensive lineman, at first he fancied himself a defensive end. "I came in as a defensive end, but I found out I wasn't quick enough for defensive end at the Alabama level. I went down to defensive tackle, and I'm loving it."

"I'm 6-0 tall and I weigh about 287 pounds," Griffin continued. "That's a good size for defensive tackle. You don't want to get too tall or the blockers can get up underneath you. That's one of my advantages. I'm always lower than everybody else."

Defensive tackles coach Buddy Wyatt would ideally like to have five athletes he can depend on for his rotation headed into the 2004 season. Right now Griffin would be No. 4, but of course there is no way to predict how things will change in the fall.

For now, Griffin is keeping his goals simple. "I hope that by this time next year everyone will know my name," he said.

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