That Baron Huber is scheduled to be the first team fullback when Alabama opens the 2007 football season Saturday is only part of the surprise. What's a nice young man from Knoxville doing in a place like Tuscaloosa?
Well, the 6-3, 242 came to Alabama from Powell High School outside Knoxville a couple of years ago to be a defensive player, perhaps a linebacker, maybe a defensive end. But he had also been a fullback in high school, and now he's poised to replace Le'Ron McClain, perhaps the best Bama football player lost to graduation from last year's team.
Huber is expected to get his first Alabama starting assignment when the Crimson Tide hosts Western Carolina at Bryant-Denny Stadium at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday.
Huber admits to being a little excited. "Being that it's Alabama football, everyone's excited," he said. "It's very exciting for me to think that I will be able to contribute more this year than I have in past seasons."
But, he said, there are no jitters. "We're anxious to go out and do our job," he said. "There are no jitters. We go over everything enough. If you've done your homework, then you just go out and play."
He's vague about what he might be called upon to do as a fullback. "I want to be ready to play when my number is called," he said.
He did say he has "always had good hands" as a receiver. And he says that he "enjoys" blocking for Terry Grant, the freshman tailback. "He makes it easy," Huber said. "He shares the fun with all of us. I'll make a block and wonder if he was able to hit the hole, then look up and see him 20 yards downfield."
Huber said that he wants opponents to respect Alabama. "If everyone does his job on every play, the rest of it will take care of itself," he said.
Huber has taken pains to improve. For one thing, he relied on his predecessor, McClain. "Le'Ron is a really nice guy who helped me tremendously," Huber said. "He was really helpful in showing me how to watch film of an opponent."
He also watched videotapes of himself to get better. "I studied the tapes from last spring and tried to improve everything over the summer," he said. "I can only control what I can do. I went out each day, taking it one step at a time, to get myself in shape to play this year."
But he said the real progress had come in fall camp. "I've had so many reps that I think I've gotten a lot better just in the past two weeks," he said.
Huber said, "The pace of practice is very fast. It's intense. I enjoy it."
Huber said he didn't worry about competition at his position when Jimmy Johns was moved there from tailback early in fall work. "I didn't think about personnel," he said. "My concentration has been on doing my assignment on every play."
He said the biggest surprise for him this fall has been "how many play-makers we have. We have a lot of guys who can go the distance. It's hard to believe how much better we're running the ball than we were in the spring. Coach Burns (Running Backs Coach Burton Burns) has done a really good job with that."
Last year Huber saw action on only 54 plays, most of those on special teams. Late in the year he suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss the final four games of the season. He said he has no injury issues now.