"If an athlete doesn't get here until August, we'll know quickly whether he's been doing what he is supposed to be doing or not."
The official reporting date for newcomers is August 4. Returning squad members will "report" the following Wednesday (7th), with the start of two-a-days scheduled for Friday, August 9. However, scores of fresh faces are already on campus, working out and preparing for fall drills.
First impressions are always important, and that especially holds true for an athlete that reports out of shape and unable to keep up with his teammates. "The reputation they earn right up front with the coaching staff and the other kids is important," Pollard said. "When you're out of shape and you're not finishing runs, then you immediately earn a reputation among your peers. And it takes some doing to overcome that."
Two-a-day practice sessions will continue through Tuesday, August 20. Conducted under a blazing August sun, the time is essential in preparing the Tide team for the upcoming season. But because of NCAA regulations limiting the early reporting roster to no more than 105 players, many deserving athletes cannot participate in the two-a-day work. "Summer participation has been really good," Head Coach Dennis Franchione said. "We had over 135 guys working out this summer. There's some quality in this group of walk-ons.
"We'll labor some over the 105 decision because of those guys."
At any given time division 1A football programs are allowed to keep 85 players on scholarship, which means that normally a minimum of 20 members of the 105 would be walk-ons. However, due to NCAA sanctions Alabama's total is limited to no more than 80, which leaves approximately 25 spots to be filled by athletes not on scholarship. Depending on academic casualties, that number could go up by one or two.
Twenty-five may sound like a large number to fans, but probably three times that many athletes are vying for the available slots. Pollard explained the situation. "When you've got more than 130 guys and there are only 105 spots available for two-a-days… Guys are really pushing each other.
"For the most part out of the 105 is where your travel squad will come from and your two-deep roster. So there's a lot of competition."
Athletes not included in the 105 early reporting roster must wait until the start of classes on August 21 to join the team. Once fall term begins, NCAA rules place no limit to the number of athletes that may practice.
Franchione says he normally brings in five specialists for early camp, including a deep snapper and all punters and kickers. However, with the competition for placekicker still wide open, it's possible that number could increase slightly this year.
Like most coaching staffs, Coach Franchione and his assistants are always biased in favor of returning veterans. Experienced players that have worked hard in the program for several years have earned consideration.
But the quality of this crop of walk-on athletes, coupled with their hard work after arriving early on campus this summer, will force the Tide coaches to make some tough decisions. "The competition for the 105 (early reporting) roster is going to be tough," Pollard said. "We have some older walk-on kids that have been in the program for awhile and deserve consideration.
"But on the other hand we have some younger ones that are really impressive to watch."
With a responsibility to build for the future, Tide fans shouldn't be surprised if several new walk-ons have replaced older ones when two-a-days begin next week.