It's Time To Begin

Finally, there was some good academic news. When Alabama released its list of those who would participate in pre-season camp, there was wide receiver Ezekiel Knight of Randolph County. That meant Knight had passed the two sections of the Alabama high school exit examination in which he had previously been deficient. Alabama's pre-season roster was still not complete as of Sunday. A team may bring in 105 to practice prior to the start of classes. Alabama's initial announcement included only 104.

Earlier news last week that incoming freshman defensive end Travis McCall of Prattville did not meet freshman eligibility requirements continued the bad academic news of the summer. McCall reportedly plans to return to high school to raise his grade point average.

Among the 28 signed by Bama this year, Alabama had seven who were considered "borderline" academically. Six of those came up short, Ezekiel Knight's late success the only bright spot. Actually, one of those seven was not considered borderline. It was a surprise that defensive end Lorenzo Washington of Loganville, Georgia, failed senior English. He and defensive lineman Brandon Fanney of Morristown, Tennessee, have enrolled at Hargrave Academy in Virginia and are expected to join Bama in January.

Among other signees who were academic casualties, Mississippi junior colleges will be home to wide receiver Nikita Stover of Hartselle (Itawamba) and defensive lineman Jeramie Holifield of Hoover (Northwest). Defensive lineman Kevin Hamilton of Prattville may also be headed to junior college, although his plans have not been made public.

Two 2004 signees have opted to sit out this fall and re-sign with Bama's 2005 class. These so-called "grayshirts" are lineman Drew Davis of Sparta Academy in Evergreen (although as late as Sunday there was a possibility he could join this year's incoming class) and quarterback John Parker Wilson of Hoover.

Alabama picked up an additional signee this summer when defensive back Jeffrey Dukes of Oxford, Mississippi, and Northwest Junior College signed with the Tide. Because he was academically eligible out of high school, he was able to transfer after only one year of junior college and has three years of eligibility remaining. He is a 6-3, 200-pound former teammate of Bama defensive end signee Chris Turner. He had four interceptions and 76 tackles last fall.

While the academic losses are troubling, there was a plan in the signing of 28 players. Alabama can bring in only 19 new scholarshipped players because of NCAA sanctions.

There are 20 newcomers who will be among those who report Monday for the start of fall camp, one of them (unnamed) paying his own way. Pre-season practice begins Tuesday with the first day of full gear contact work on Saturday, August 14. Bama will have only one practice each day through Saturday. Beginning Sunday, August 15, the Tide will be allowed to practice twice every other day until the start of classes on August 25. With the beginning of classes, Alabama will be allowed only one practice per day. The beginning of the fall semester also means the end of the 105 limit on the practice squad.

Practices will be closed to the public, including former players and parents of current players, although there have been reports that at least the August 21 scrimmage will be open.

Among Alabama's new facilities is a new synthetic surface practice field where the Tide's varsity tennis courts were previously. Alabama players have used a new weight room since last winter, and there is now a new training room, locker room, and meeting rooms. At Bryant-Denny Stadium, where the Tide will open the 2004 season at 6 p.m. CDT September 4 vs. Utah State, there is a new grass surface, installed late this summer. (Home game times have also been set for Mississippi on September 11 at 8 p.m. with telecast by ESPN2, Western Carolina on September 18 at 6 p.m. CDT, and homecoming vs. Southern Mississippi on October 16 at 2:30 p.m. CDT.)

In addition to Washington, Fanney, Davis and Wilson–and possibly McCall–being re-signed in 2005 (when Alabama can have 25 new scholarshipped players), Bama has received commitments from no fewer than five upcoming senior high school players. They are Sam Burnthall, 6-3, 195, defensive back, Decatur; Evan Cardwell, 6-2, 300, offensive lineman, Killen Brooks; Barron Huber, 6-4, 240, defensive end, Powell, Tennessee; Michael Johnson, 6-5, 265, offensive lineman, Pensacola, Florida, Pine Forest; and Cory Reamer, 6-3, 190, defensive back, Hoover. There are also reports that Henry Smith, a former Alabama lineman of the year at Aliceville, will sign with the Tide out of junior college.

Alabama will be without the services of returning starting middle linebacker Freddie Roach when practice begins Tuesday. Roach had late summer arthroscopic knee surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews. Roach could return to practice within about a week of the start of drills. At the end of last spring Roach had fallen behind (albeit, barely behind) Cornelius Wortham. Ironically, Wortham was a returning starter at strongside linebacker last year, but missed 2003 with an elbow injury.

Other prominent Tide players who missed all or part of work last year and/or last spring who are expected to be ready to go this fall are quarterbacks Brodie Croyle and Spencer Pennington; offensive tackle Wesley Britt; center Travis West; tight ends David Cavan, Clint Johnston, and Greg McLain; and defensive tackle Dominic Lee.

Additionally, wide receiver Antonio Carter, who missed the past two years with complications from a leg injury and resulting surgery, is also expected to return for a rare sixth year after he was granted that extension by the NCAA.

It is normal for a handful of players to have to pass academic work in summer school, and the most-watched of those is defensive tackle Anthony Bryant. Bryant, who was a partial qualifier as a freshman and thus ineligible in 2000, will regain that year of eligibility and be able to play in 2004 only if he has completed graduation requirements prior to the start of fall classes. Bryant must pass two courses in the second semester of summer school, which ends Friday.

Two returning back-up players will earn their degrees this summer and are not going to return for football. They are cornerback Thurman Ward and wide receiver Tarry Givens.


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