As the leader of Bama's offensive line, Ephraim was still careful to defer to Andrew Zow and Terry Jones Jr., last year's senior co-captains. "Everything happens for a reason," Ephraim said. "I was just blessed to be able to learn from last year's seniors. It was awesome. I learned a lot from each and every one of them."
From beginning to end, 2001 was something of a roller-coaster season for Alabama. But Ephraim remembers finishing on a positive note. "We finally got a bowl win, which we haven't had in years," he explained. "That was exciting. Our goal wasn't just to go to a bowl but to win it. That's always our goal before the season even starts.
"Now we're setting higher goals for next year."
That hard-fought bowl win over a game Iowa State squad allowed the Tide to finish 7-5, achieving its goal of a winning record. But Ephraim and his teammates had to fashion a four-game winning streak to get to that mark.
"Emotionally you've got to dig down deep," Ephraim said. "It's something that you have to want. It's a feeling that you can't get from just being a fan or watching in the stands. It's a feeling that is so hard to describe and explain.
"For instance, in the Independence Bowl, when I saw (Andrew) Zow throw that ball and I saw TJ (Terry Jones, Jr.) catch it (for the game-winning touchdown), it was something. Last season and the bowl game was a blessing, and we're going to use it as a stepping stone."
There were plenty of times when last year's squad could have quit. But Ephraim and others simply would not let that happen. "We believed in each other," he said. "Just like on that last play, we looked at each other in the huddle standing side by side and we said, ‘It's time to do it. No more talking.' A win is a win, no matter how much you win by."
Last season Ephraim provided much-needed leadership on a young offensive line that started three redshirt freshmen. He started all 11 regular season games, including a total of 708 snaps--more than another other lineman. Ephraim had 108 knock-down blocks on the season, totaling 20 versus UTEP alone. He also had double-figure knock-downs versus UCLA, South Carolina, LSU, Auburn and Southern Miss.
At season's end, the Birmingham native was honored by the Associated Press as first-team All-SEC. "Last year was a stepping stone," Ephraim said. "Now we've got to go on to step on the next block and the next block. We can't stop here. Right now we're a pretty good offensive line, but we've got to build on that.
"We didn't really play that well in our last game, but we've got to continue to get better so we won't have those bad games."
Offensively at least, the 2001 team improved significantly, finishing fourth in the SEC in total offense (409.4 yards per game). And its 226.4 yards per game rushing average was good enough to lead the conference in that category.
"With our offensive line, we love to run the ball," Ephraim said. "We just love to pound guys. We love to just pound them, because we're so physical. We love to get out there and just run the ball, run the ball, run the ball."
"But we've got good wide receivers, good quarterbacks and good tight ends, so we've got to share the ball, pass the ball around," Ephraim said. "Passing the ball is the one thing we've got to get better on. That's been our main point this spring: protection. Stop giving up those sacks."
As good as Bama's rushing stats were, Ephraim knows he and his running mates need to improve for the passing numbers to go up. "Last year when we went to pass and things didn't go our way, then we could get down, because we think we can do more than we can. We all have to take care of our business. We've got to trust each other more."
Ephraim understands that football is the ultimate team game. And no matter how talented an individual athlete may be, you're only as good as the player next to you. "When you're in the game you start thinking, ‘I spent all this time with this player. I know he's going to get the job done. We played all these games together, I trust him to get the job done.' That was the difference last year. We trusted and believed in each other. We stood together."
Ephraim continued, "As long as you keep believing, yeah, we can do it. I trust those guys next to me. We love each other. We're like brothers. That's the big thing about it. We keep believing in each other and it will keep on happening."