After starting slowly in 2001, Beard came on like gangbusters versus home-state Tennessee, averaging 14.1 yards per carry and breaking a 51-year-old school record in the process. "He really caught on for us last year, and this summer will be a big summer for him," Fobbs said. "There's no doubt he still has strides to make to meet his maximum potential."
Beard followed up that Tennessee game with two rushing touchdowns versus Mississippi State. But it was in his first start against Auburn, that the talented tailback enjoyed his best game in Crimson. Averaging 9.9 yards per carry, Beard ran over, around and through a hapless Tiger defense, accumulating 199 yards and two more rushing touchdowns.
But as good as Beard is, he's not the only option Fobbs and Alabama have at tailback. Senior Ahmaad Galloway and junior transfer Shaud Williams are right up there with Beard in terms of talent. "I've probably got multiple starting tailbacks," Fobbs said. "I think I could just say, ‘You're in this time and you're in the next time.' And I can do that without losing a step."
"I'll tell you what--I'm very happy to be sitting where I am with the talent that I have," Fobbs continued. "I'd much rather be on this end than be on the other end.
"I've played the position, and I've always had a philosophy that the more talent you have with the competition, the better."
Galloway is ‘Mr. Dependable,' as effective at blocking or running a pass route as he is carrying the football. The diminutive Williams, of course, is the classic scatback, capable of making would-be tacklers look foolish. And at times last season Beard showed a combination of flash and power that Tide fans haven't seen since Shaun Alexander.
"Each of them brings a different style to the field," Fobbs explained. "And that's a good thing. That presents problems for opposing coaches and opposing defenses. When one guy is in as opposed to another guy, (opposing defensive coordinators) have to make some adjustments for the new guy."
Beard actually began the 2001 season no better than fourth on the depth chart. But after running at will against a vaunted Tennessee defense, that changed quickly. "His performance against Tennessee didn't surprise me at all," Fobbs said. "I knew the kid had talent. And if you talk to him, he'll tell you the same."
Never lacking for confidence, Beard has had to learn where his abilities fit into the Bama offense. Fobbs explained. "If he brings (his talent) out within the context of the team, it can be much more valuable. And Santonio understands that. He's not going to play his own game--not that it was that way.
"But I knew the kid had an abundance of talent, he just had to understand our offense and what we were trying to get done on the field."
Unfortunately for Beard, his rise to the top was not without a major speed bump. A traffic accident and arrest involving alcohol resulted in Beard being suspended for the season finale against Southern Miss, and it was time for Coach Fobbs to exercise a more personal role with his talented back.
Fobbs explained. "Like many kids across the country, Santonio needed some guidance. There's no need to get too personal, but all kids want that guidance. But unfortunately, in many cases the necessary guidance is just not there for them.
"I told him, ‘You lean on me. Use me up. That's why I'm here. Not just the Xs and Os part.'"
Going from cheers to jeers overnight isn't easy for anyone, but Beard listened to his coaches, determined to say and do the right thing. "The coach I played for--along with my Mom and my father--gave me guidance," Fobbs related. "I see it as a continuous process. Anyone that makes a contribution to society beyond being a football player, but also being a good citizen, will need guidance at some point. Then hopefully one day when the Good Lord gives you a family, you'll pass along the same (to your children). That's what happened to me."
Like countless other young athletes around the country, Beard depends on his position coach for more than just advice about football. "Santonio and I have made a million miles of progress," Fobbs said. "Last year was very important to him, knowing he can look back and see that somebody was there for him.
"I'm not sure that previously he could always do that."
His personal problems behind him now, Beard is looking forward to a stellar junior season. And as much as he admires Galloway and Williams, one of his personal goals is to start. "He was a little frustrated early on (last season), because he wanted in there right away," Fobbs acknowledged. "All kids do. When I was playing, I wanted in there right now. But he had to understand the way I was bringing them along. Early on he didn't understand it, but I think he does now. Now he understands, and it's turning out very good.
"We've talked about it. Santonio said, ‘Coach, I need to just let you coach and I'll play.' I told him ‘You're exactly right.'"