Lombardi Semi-finalist Keeps Even Keel

Success hasn't changed DeMeco Ryans much.

Typically one of the University of Alabama football team's quietest but hardest-working players, Ryans reacted to some very good news in his usual low-key nature.

The senior strong linebacker and Bessemer native was named Tuesday as one of 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award, honoring the top lineman in college football.

But Ryans made it clear he isn't really worried about awards.

The Crimson Tide's No. 1 tackler knows plenty of honors will come his way – as long as he continues his current stellar play.

"It's a great honor to be named, but you just have to keep playing ball, man," he said. "All those awards, they come, they come, but the credit goes to my team more than me, because it's a team effort and the team's involved. You've got to credit those guys."

Through six games, Ryans has 41 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He's one of two SEC Lombardi semifinalists (Tennessee defensive end Jesse Mahelona is the other) and a semifinalist for the Draddy Trophy, given to college football's top scholar-athlete by the National Football Foundation.

Still, Ryans knows the attention can dry up with one bad game.

"It's nice to have national recognition, but you've got to keep playing," he said. "If you go down, you're going to get thrown in the tank and forgotten about."

That means playing well this week against Tennessee, one of Alabama's most hated rivals. The Crimson Tide could conceivably have a three-game winning streak on the line Saturday, if not for a few plays that went Tennessee's way the past two years (most notably a fourth-and-19 completion in the third overtime in 2003 and a botched line call that led to an easy Vols touchdown on the first series last year).

Instead, Alabama lost both games, falling 51-43 in five overtimes in 2003 and 17-13 in Knoxville last year.

"It hurts bad, to know how close you are and not come up with it," Ryans said. "One play here or there, we're on the other side. We have to do something about it. We can't control those years, but we can control this year, and we can change it this year." That's what Ryans is worried about. Awards don't matter. Winning this week – and the next four weeks – is obviously foremost on his mind.

"Everybody's talking about championships," he said. "That's how we feel, because that's what Alabama's about – national championships and SEC championships. "We'll prove ourselves at the end of the season. Right now, we've got work to do. It's the seventh week, and we've still got work to do."

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