It's something of an "off week" for most of the Bama players, but Dennis Franchione and his staff will still be working hard. "I'm looking forward to the JV game on Thursday," Franchione said. "It will give an opportunity for some of our younger players to get out and have a chance to play a game."
In true Tide tradition, even junior varsity opponents are highly ranked. Thursday's opponent went 11-0 last season, outscoring their opponents by an average score of 37-6. This year's Georgia Military squad will come to Tuscaloosa with a perfect 5-0 record. "We're certainly playing a tough opponent," Franchione said. "Georgia Military is ranked No. 1 in the nation in junior college. It will be good to have a team like that coming here, but it'll be a challenge for this group."
Without a doubt the GMC players will be sky-high, hoping to prove something against nationally known Alabama. But while the Tide staff wants to win, they'll be pursuing other goals in Thursday's game as well. Franchione explained, "Though we'd like to win the football game--as with any game that you play--it'll be a chance to evaluate. Our primary goal is to get some of the young players some experience and to get them in a battle in action against an opponent."
The game will mainly feature third- and fourth-stringers, athletes that are not likely to get playing time on Saturdays. Football players can take part in 12 games this season (13 for Alabama with the Hawaii trip)---varsity or junior varsity. So technically every squad member that did not play in one or more games earlier this season could participate.
Also, a player slated for a redshirt could not participate without burning his season. "We won't jeopardize anyone's eligibility," Charley North, Alabama's Director of Football Operations said. "No starters or varsity members will compete."
If every eligible Tide player participated, then Alabama would field a very strong team. But for several reasons, including concerns over possible injury, Thursday's squad will be limited.
However, Franchione noted that several excellent athletes will take part. "We'll have a number of non-scholarship players in the group in addition to a few scholarship players, too. We would like to play some of our lineman. J.B. Closner, Von Ewing, Mark Sanders---a few of those guys on scholarship. Spencer Pennington may play a bit in the game. No matter what, it'll be good to see some of our guys get out and compete and play and fight."
Fans attending Thursday's game will see several offensive skill players they recognize. Spencer Pennington will work at quarterback, and another "unnamed" athlete may also get some snaps. Josh Smith will play tailback. Receivers will include Brandon Brooks, Thurman Ward, Tarry Givens and Joel Babb.
Ryan Babb, (6-0, 185, Fr) from Phenix City's Central HS and Ezzie Raulls (5-8, 210, Fr) from Tuscaloosa's Central HS will take snaps at tailback.
Josh Averett (6-5, 195, So) from Vance's Brookwood HS, Nick Morgan (5-11, 185, Jr) from Pelham HS, Will Fountain (6-2, 190, Jr) from Thomasville HS, Jay Stubbs (5-8, 178, So), the son of former Tide Quarterbacks Coach Charlie Stubbs, and Kip Williams (6-1, 190, Jr) from Chatom's Washington County HS will play wide receiver.
NCAA rules allow schools to schedule up to five junior varsity games per year, but there are very few schools that do. In past decades such games were common, but a variety of factors led to their demise. "With expanded schedules, you have fewer open dates," North explained. "And we can't take away from game preparation. The limitations on squad sizes has hurt. We'll only have 135 or so kids this year, and you used to have 180-200 at the big schools. Plus, we're allowed fewer coaches today."
Alabama should be very strong on the offensive line. Center participants include J.B. Closner. Danny Martz and Mark Sanders will play guard. And Matt Lomax and Von Ewing will handle tackle.
Other offensive linemen on the roster include Justin Gibson (6-3, 260, Fr) from Gilberton's South Choctaw HS and Montre Walker (6-1, 280, Fr) from Hayneville's Central HS. At tight end or ‘W,' Nathan Cox (6-1, 224, So) from Spanish Fort's UMS Wright HS, Boone Stutz (6-5, 290, Fr) from Arlington, Texas' Martin HS, and Rusty Hill (6-1, 220, Fr) from Hokes Bluff HS will play.
Alabama's last JV game took place 22 years ago at Fort Benning, Georgia. But in previous years such games were common. Back then the games were normally played on Thursday or Friday, and the exact number of JV games would vary from year to year.
Despite the problems, Franchione decided to schedule a JV game for the players' benefit. "You cannot just hand people experience," he explained. "You have to go out and play in games. But when every game is a tough, conference game week to week, it's hard to just throw people into the fire.
"This is a great opportunity for some young men to go out and get some experience and show the coaches how they'll respond. To prove they will respond if played in a game. It'll make them better down the line no matter what."
Several familiar names will participate on defense. Bart Raulston and Derek Sanders will play on the defensive line. Juke King will take snaps at linebacker. And Corey Ferguson and Roberto McBride will man the corners.
Non-scholarshipped linemen playing include Jonathan Brunson (6-3, 239, So) from Geneva County HS, Will Hardy (6-3, 219, Fr) from Wetumpka's Holtville HS, Matt McMullin (6-2, 221, Fr) from Montgomery's Trinity Presbyterian HS, John Paul Bevel (6-2, 252, Jr) from Birmingham's Woodlawn HS, and T.J. Davidson (6-2, 221, Fr) from Foley HS.
The linebacking corps will be deep, including Brad Biehl (5-11, 204, Jr) from Orlando, Florida's Cyprus Creek HS, Brandon Dean (6-1, 237, So) from Mobile's UMS Wright HS, Carl McInnish (6-1, 195, Sr) from Brewton's T.R. Miller HS, David Simmons (5-10, 195, So) from Geneva HS, and William Felts (5-11, 211, Fr) from Thomasville HS in Thomasville, Georgia.
Defensive backs include Ben Rose (5-9, 180, Fr) from Rochester HS in Rochester Hills, Michigan, Charles Hosea (5-11, 178, So) from Huntsville's St. Marys HS, Hamid Haqq (6-0, 188, Jr) from Huntsville's Grissom HS, Eric Moore (5-10, 182, Sr) from Mobile's Shaw HS, Corbin Pardue (5-10, 180, Fr) from Stratford HS in Houston, Texas, and Matt Grice (6-0, 191, So) from Tuscaloosa's Hillcrest HS.
Practice is valuable, but some things are best learned on the football field in live action. Franchione explained, "As you've seen with some of our young players, they get in there and think they're ready to go and make a mistake or two. Then they learn tremendously from that mistake. In Brodie (Croyle's) first game he made some mistakes, learned from them, and came back and corrected them.
"If you can get younger players some game experience, they'll correct their mistakes. They learn more in a game than in practice every day."
Mike Mclaughlin, the only Tide kicker currently on scholarship, will help with placekicking duties. Alex Fox (5-11, 182, So) from Pensacola Catholic HS in Pensacola, Florida and Gabe Giardina (5-6, 160, Jr) from DuPont HS in Centre Hall, Pennsylvannia will also kick.
One of the more versatile athletes on the squad, Will Fountain (6-2, 190, Jr) from Brewton's T.R. Miller HS will punt.
The graduate assistants (Woodrow Lowe, offense and Rick LaFavers, defense) will be principally responsible for the game. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 pm at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and North says that regular game rules will apply. The contest will be fully officiated, and will count on Georgia Military's record.
EDITOR'S NOTE: We got our player information from Rick LaFavers, who will be Thursday's "head coach." But other athletes will probably be added (or subtracted) from the list. Two players LaFavers mentioned, Holt at safety and Tate on the defensive line, were not on our roster, so we could not provide any information.