Fran Greets The Newcomers

The first flicker of fall football practice were last week's Southeastern Conference Media Days. But the first real sign of a football team came Sunday when Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione greeted 25 new players for the start of fall practice Monday.

These newcomers include 15 signees, with perhaps another signee to emerge from the group. Franchione had already announced that one of the 17 signees would not arrive until the spring semester. Linebacker Earnest Nance of Courtland will enter Bama in January, although he will count against this year's signing class number. However, there is a very good chance that defensive end Chris Browder of Camden will not be academically eligible, which will mean his entry to Alabama will be delayed. There is currently an appeal of Browder's situation, so Franchione is not prepared to close the book on his chances for making it this year. If Browder is ruled not eligible, he will be able to go to prep school, attend junior college, or merely attempt to raise his test score and gain eligibility in time for the spring semester.

If Browder is not eligible, the most likely recipient of his scholarship is wide receiver Marcus McKnight of West Nassau High School in Callahan, Florida. McKnight, 6-2, 170, recently attained academic eligibility. He made an unofficial recruiting visit to Alabama last week and agreed to walk on, perhaps with the promise of a scholarship if Browder is not eligible.

Most of the attention was on the scholarshipped players checking in. They included 11 freshmen and four junior college transfers.

The freshmen are: Quarterback Brandon Avalos, 6-2, 190, of Tuscaloosa Hillcrest; defensive lineman Jeremy Clark, 6-3, 280, of Daphne; running back Ken Darby, 5-11, 190, of Huntsville Butler; offensive lineman Grant Dickey, 6-5, 300, of Lee High School in Tyler, Texas; linebacker Jawan Garth, 6-3, 190, of Decatur Austin; defensive end Chris Harris, 6-5, 230, of Tuscaloosa Central; runningback Nic Luke, 6-1, 218, of Phenix City Central; linebacker Greg McLain, 6-3, 230, of Lineville; cornerback ?Ramzee Robinson, 5-10, 175, of Huntsville Butler; linebacker DeMeco Ryans, 6-1, 210, of Bessemer Jess Lanier; and defensive end Kyle Tatum, 6-6, 260, of Prattville.

One of those junior college transfers–defensive tackle Ahmad Childress–has three years of eligibility remaining. He is 6-7, 345, from Nashville and out of Garden City Community College in Kansas. Other junior college transfer signees are wide receiver Zach Fletcher, 6-3, 200, of Moulton and City College of San Francisco; linebacker Derrick Pope, 6-0, 223, of Galveston, Texas, and Garden City Community College; and cornerback David Scott, 6-0, 180, of Homestead, Florida, and Jones (Mississippi) Community College.

There is also one walk-on junior college transfer, flanker Jason Bolding, 6-4, 205, of Simi Valley, California, and Moore Park Junior College.

Most of the freshmen walk-ons are from near Tuscaloosa, but two are from Texas. They are quarterback Max Skembo, 6-1, 190, of Dallas Richardson, and flanker William Hold, 6-2, 180, of Austin McAllen.

Other freshmen walk-ons are tailback Trevis O'Neal, 6-2, 225, of Leeds; cornerback Grant Nailen, 5-11, 170, of Birmingham Briarwood Christian; linebacker Allen Long, 6-2, 225, of Addison; strong guard Cody Grammer, 6-5, 245, of Tuscaloosa County; and defensive end J.P. Adams, 6-4, 240, of Tuscaloosa County.

There was also one sophomore walk-on, a transfer from UAB. Taylor Britt is a 6-4, 255-pound defensive tackle from Cullman, and the brother of Bama's starting offensive quick tackle, Wesley Britt.

Franchione said that a number of the walk-ons are players who would have been considered for scholarships had Alabama been allowed to sign the normal limit of 25. He mentioned O'Neal, Nailen, Adams, and Bolding in that group.

The newcomers will go through two short practices Monday afternoon. They were spending Sunday getting checked in, having physical examinations, and going through meetings and would have more meetings and the like Monday morning before going onto the field. They will have academic meetings Tuesday and final practices by themselves Wednesday.

On Friday, the entire two-a-day practice squad of 105 will be on the field. Full gear work begins August 13. Classes (and one-a-day practices) begin August 21. Bama's opening game in a 13-game regular season schedule is against Middle Tennessee State at 11:30 a.m. CDT August 31 in Birmingham, a game that will be telecast regionally by Jefferson Pilot.

One newcomer was running late Sunday. Franchione said that Zach Fletcher had automobile trouble.

The Tide head coach said, "I'm excited to get started. I feel like it's a special group coming in for us."

Franchione said, "There's a limit to what we can do with only 25 guys." However, Alabama will stretch that number a bit with some players working on both offense and defense. Franchione said he expected Jawan Garth to work on defense one practice (at linebacker) and on offense at another (at wide receiver). He said that Greg McLain "has the body of a tight end-fullback-linebacker-defensive end" and would possibly be worked on both offense and defense. Others who could work both ways include Ramzee Robinson (cornerback and wide receiver) and Ken Darby (tailback and linebacker).

The Tide coach said that with the exception of defensive linemen, a number of players had the skills to play more than one position, which was part of the recruiting strategy with Bama's scholarships limited by NCAA sanctions.

Also part of the strategy to deal with those scholarship limits was to redshirt most of last year's recruiting class. Defensive end Todd Bates was the only member of that class to play last season. More could see action this year. All the junior college transfers are expected to contribute immediately. Among all signees, Franchione has indicated he thinks defensive linemen–Jeremy Clark, Chris Harris, and Kyle Tatum–will get hard looks because of Alabama's depth situation on the defensive line.

The coach said, "You hope they are all ready to play and will play as freshmen." But, he said, the reality is that the college game is much faster, involves much more knowledge, and requires great maturity for freshmen to play. Franchione said, "If they are ready to play, they are going to play. If they are not ready to play, we're not going to just throw them out there." He pointed out that Alabama's all-star center, Alonzo Ephraim, lost a year of eligibility because he was played for 25 plays early in his career. He said he didn't want to have a player lose a year because of some spot playing time.


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