Taking his best shot

Sometimes it seemed like the average fan simply assumed this day would never come. But from the beginning of Bama's recent NCAA troubles pundits have predicted that 2004 and 2005 would be the most difficult seasons. <br><br>Junior walk-on Bryan Kilpatrick commented. "Because of the numbers right now, everybody out there pretty much has a chance to play."

Spring practice has always been a time for unheralded walk-ons to make their mark, and that's especially true with the Tide's 2004 sanctions-depleted squad.

"Everybody is working hard," Kilpatrick continued. "We're going out there every day trying to prove that we can play."

NCAA sanctions are designed to hurt, and that's precisely what's going on now with Alabama. Taking injuries into account, less than 50 scholarshipped players are practicing with the squad during spring drills, placing the Tide at a serious disadvantage numbers-wise compared to its SEC rivals.

But that's the bad news. The silver lining to that otherwise unremittingly negative cloud is that hard-working walk-ons like Bryan Kilpatrick now have a realistic chance to make an impact on the roster.

That's especially true at safety. Junior Roman Harper has one position pretty much locked down, but the Tide needs another starter and at least two back-ups.

"Right now we've only got three scholarshipped guys working at safety," Kilpatrick said. "It's wide open. Coach (Mike Shula) said at the beginning of spring that every position is wide open. We need depth and we need people to play special teams.

"Right now I'm just trying to help the team out wherever I can."

Given his current status as second string strong safety, that's a bit of an understatement on Kilpatrick's part. Who knows what the fall will bring, when several talented true freshmen defenders will join the squad? But in Saturday's scrimmage the junior walk-on turned in four tackles and a quarterback sack.

What about his newfound status on the Bama depth chart?

"I'm excited about it," Kilpatrick acknowledged. "It gives me a chance to show the coaches what I can do, to show them that I really do want to be out there and play."

Bryan Kilpatrick sets up in his stance during practice. So far he's had a good spring, making several big plays, including a sack during Saturday's scrimmage.

"My Dad is excited about it," Kilpatrick continued. "He calls me and asks how practice is going. It's a pretty big deal for my family all the way down."

The average major-college football team will have up to 150 athletes on its fall roster. Given that the NCAA only allows 85 of them to be on scholarship, that leaves plenty of spots for a talented walk-on to make his mark.

Kilpatrick talked about his background. "I've always wanted to come to Alabama. That was always a dream of mine. I played at Monroe Academy in Monroeville, Alabama. It's a small, private school in South Alabama. Pretty much I've wanted to come to Alabama all my life."

Small-time high school football nationwide is pretty much a "come on, come all" proposition. But Bama found a hidden gem in Kilpatrick.

"I played outside linebacker in high school, but I came here as a safety," he said. "The coaches told me I'd probably have a better shot at safety, because of my size. I wouldn't be big enough to play linebacker."

The average defensive back is happy if he's as tall as six foot, which gives Kilpatrick a edge.

"I'm 6-4 and I weigh about 200 pounds," he related. "I've put on five to ten pounds since I've gotten here, nothing much. I've been able to keep my speed. That's key for a defensive back."

As any walk-on will attest, joining the team and working on the scout squad is one thing. But actually catching the coaching staff's collective eye can prove much more difficult. So how did Kilpatrick pull it off?

"It's just hard work;" he replied, "hard work and persistence. I worked hard on the scout team the first two years. Coach (Chris Ball) and the other defensive coaches saw me and gave me a shot. That's all I really wanted when I came."

Shown after practice last week, Bryan is determined to work as hard as he can to take advantage of his opportunity this spring.

Kilpatrick has the size to be a force at his position, but he knows there is plenty of work left to be done.

"Mainly right now Coach Ball talks to me about knowing my assignments and staying low," Kilpatrick revealed. "The biggest thing is learning the (defensive pass) coverages, being in the right place at the right time."

BamaMag.com spoke with Kilpatrick one day after practice last week. As part of Shula's routine the players had just finished a grueling conditioning session, and the Monroeville native was exhausted, dripping with sweat, despite the cool, early-spring temperatures.

But that didn't mean he wasn't happy.

"I'm healthy right now, and nobody fell out today during conditioning," Kilpatrick said at the time. "The running is okay. Everybody is working hard. We hold each other accountable. I'm having fun. It's a blast."

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