"The NCAA is not on our schedule...

Yesterday's repeat performance by the NCAA--slamming Alabama and once again dashing the hopes of the Tide faithful--predictably produced a wave of anger and resentment among fans. <br><br>But thanks to strong leadership from coaches and veteran players, the squad itself remains unfazed. "Fans have a right to be upset," senior center Alonzo Ephraim acknowledged. "But that doesn't really filter down to the team."

Denying The University's appeal on every point, the NCAA Appeals Committee upheld sanctions that include five years probation, scholarship reductions for three years and a ban on post-season play in 2002 and 2003. "Naturally, fans would like to see their team go on and represent their state and themselves," Ephraim continued. "I think they have a right to be upset, but we don't look at it as anything. The team doesn't see it as anything that's going to hinder us."

Franchione is keeping a laser-like focus on the season.

Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione set the tone firmly, and his attitude has clearly filtered down to the team. "Alabama is on the downhill side of NCAA troubles and we're moving on," he said in a prepared statement. "I don't sit around thinking about things I can't control."

Responding to a follow-up question, he remained on message. "I've said all I want to say about the NCAA," was his response. "Any time I spend talking about those guys is a waste of time."

Mobile broadcast units from various television stations around the state surrounded the Drew-Thomas Practice Fields Tuesday morning, with "on location" talking heads doing cut-ins back to other talking heads at anchor desks. In the meantime, oblivious to the media feeding frenzy taking place back at the Football Complex, Bama's student-athletes were living up to the first part of that moniker.

Junior rover Brooks Daniels related what happened. "We didn't even know the decision came in until people told us. Somebody came up to me in class and said, ‘Brooks, do you know what came down?'

"But unless somebody grabs me and mentions it, we don't even notice the NCAA. Two years? What's that? We've got too much going for us."

Tuesday talk shows and Internet message boards were flooded with fans angry and upset over their team's treatment. But the Tide players are concerned with only one thing. "We're still thinking about what we started the season thinking about--that's winning every game we play," explained sophomore tackle Wesley Britt. "Of course fans are upset, but it won't affect the team's focus. If it has any effect it'll just make us mad and increase our drive to go out there and prove something.

Fans may be angry, but according to Antwan Odom the team remains focused.

"Prove to the world that we are Alabama."

It's all about focus. And this team is determined to stay that way. "We're just thinking about winning the rest of our games; that's about it--just winning," was how defensive end Antwan Odom explained it. "Other people may be going crazy, but you can't control that. We just stay focused.

"Southern Miss is all there is this week. After that, it'll be Arkansas."

Determined to make his final season his best, senior cornerback Gerald Dixon is one of the more vocal leaders on the squad. "It's Southern Miss--you don't need to say anything more," is his message to his teammates this week. "It's a whole lot of guys that wanted to play here. We always have a good game with Southern Miss. They're always on the brink. We've got to play well."

Senior tailback Ahmaad Galloway agreed. "Right now we're going to probably play three teams in a row (Southern Miss, Arkansas, and Georgia) that are going to probably be undefeated. We want to repeat how we finished last year, and that's by winning every ball game. A lot of things go on outside of football that we have no control over. But Alabama signed all of us to come here and play games. We've still got ten of them left this year."

Galloway and his teammates are looking only to the immediate future.

Fans can't help but focus on the exterior. Where is my team ranked? What are the pundits saying now?

But like soldiers heading into battle, football players focus on the man beside them. A-Back Shaud Williams explained, "We're all playing for each other. You're not playing for yourself, you're playing for the guy next to you and the people in the past who put on the Crimson jersey."

Ephraim summed it up.

"The NCAA and any of that stuff--we don't pay it any mind," he said. "Honestly, we don't care to know really what's going on, because in the long run, that helps us out. We've got a long season ahead of us, with some real good teams on our schedule. Southern Miss is the team we're going to play Saturday.

"The NCAA is not on our schedule."

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