Loose change players invaluable to squad

Given NCAA limitations on scholarship numbers, walk-on players are more valuable today than they've ever been. And Safeties Coach Melvin Smith believes he's got two of the best working with him. <br><br>"Both Hamid (Haqq) and Marc (Miller) to me are loose-change guys," Smith said. "And that's not said as a negative. They get all the scraps. You get a scrap here and a scrap there, and before you know it you've won the game."

Though frankly unrecognized by most fans, Haqq and Miller are two of the hardest-working athletes on the team. But in Bama's most recent Independence Bowl victory, Miller got a chance to be the hero. Executing a stunt with fellow safety Waine Bacon, Miller broke free to block a fourth-quarter punt and set up the Tide's winning touchdown.

Shown working in the Bama weight room, Hamid Haqq is a valuable team member that few fans know about.

"To me Iowa State last year was a loose-change game," Smith said. "Alabama had to scrap, fight and claw. And grit won out in the end."

Recently moved from cornerback to safety, Haqq has two years of eligibility left. Fellow junior Marc Miller also made a position move last season, switching from quarterback to free safety. Both men are smart, tough players, willing to do whatever they can to help the team.

Smith explained the importance of players like Miller and Haqq to a team. "Everybody can't be a superstar. At Mississippi State we were 10-2 one year--and most of those games were loose-change games. We got all the scraps. We didn't have as much talent as some of the people that we beat, but we played as a unit, we played as a team and we played hard. State wasn't like that last year. We lacked what some people call ‘glue' players."

Working together at free safety, Miller and Haqq finished spring drills third- and fourth-string respectively. "Both those kids had really good springs," Smith said. "Nobody loves walk ons anymore than I do. The hardest job in America is a walk on at a university in the SEC. Everybody is not the greatest athlete. I was real proud of some of the guys that I had at Mississippi State."

Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione has a phrase he likes to use when he addresses the squad.

"Find a way to help the team," is his mantra.

There are only 22 starting slots available on offense and defense. And even by adding in specialist positions in the kicking game, that total still doesn't get much higher than 25. But not every task on a football team involves publicity, and the best teams are filled with players willing to go that extra mile.

Marc Miller watches the action at this spring's Night of Champions.

Smith commented, "A walk-on kid gets every raggedy detail. They're just like a private in the Army. After awhile, they begin to think their name is ‘Walk On.'"

It's possible that Miller will get some snaps this season on defense, but realistically both he and Haqq are more likely to contribute to the squad on special teams.

"Marc is a guy that I think we'll get a lot of mileage out of," Smith related. "He's a loose-change player, and to be really good as a team, you've got to get all of the loose change. Loose change plays are blocked kicks, scooped up fumbles, big-time blocks on the kickoff return, big-time blocks on the punt return, holding up the gunner."

Intelligence is another trait that Miller and Haqq share in common, and both players are more than capable of reading the realities of Alabama's defensive depth chart. But each man is also determined to find a way to help his teammates win.

"Some duties require a guy that's the ultimate team player," Smith said. "I think Marc Miller is the ultimate team player. I think Hamid is the same. Those two guys I really like."


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