Dont'a Hightower talks of decision
Rebecca Johnston: Coach Thomas can you tell us about Dont'a as a person/player and a member of your team?
Coach Don Thomas: "He's a tremendous player and a tremendous young man. I think that's what makes him so special is because he has tremendous athletic ability, and then his character and his integrity are great."
"This is my first year here. He's been a tremendous impact for the team. He does whatever we need. He's our defensive leader with a 144 tackles, five interceptions, two fumble recoveries, six forced fumbles."
"It's just unbelievable what all he's done, and offensively he's just been a workhorse there. Whenever he touches the ball something special happens, but we just haven't let him touch it much--45 rushes for 474 yards and 12 touchdowns and nine receptions for 209 yards and two touchdowns. Whenever he touches the ball he does something really good."
Rebecca: You said you felt like you made your decision last week, what made the University of Alabama the best fit for Dont'a Hightower?
Dont'a: "I think what really got me was the state of Alabama and the community as well as Coach (Nick) Saban and Coach (Kevin) Steele. Pretty much everything about Alabama I liked, and it just felt like home."
Rebecca: Describe your relationship with Coach Saban.
Dont'a: "I think it is forming to be a great friendship. He came to see me at school in the spring and when I went down to Alabama both times I got to sit down and talk to him. He just told me that I fit the criteria for an Alabama student athlete. I'm athletic. I keep my head in the books. He told me that I was one of his favorites, so I guess he got what he wanted."
Rebecca: Have you discussed with the coaches where you will play for the Tide?
Dont'a: "Yes ma'am. I think I'm going to play inside linebacker and defensive end."
Rebecca: Do you think with the situation at Alabama lends itself to the possibility of playing early and actually competing to start next year?
Dont'a: "Yes ma'am. Ezekial Knight and a couple of others are going to graduate this year. That leaves Rolando (McClain) and Prince Hall to be the linebackers, and that opens a great spot for me to come in and compete and possibly even start sometime next year."
Rebecca: Did the tradition of Alabama linebackers who went on to the NFL have anything to do with your decision? Cornelius Bennett, Derrick Thomas, DeMeco Ryans.
Dont'a: "Yes that meant a lot to me. Every high school athlete's dream is to go pro, and I think that I could get that done at the University of Alabama. They have a great history of sending a lot of players to the NFL like the ones you mentioned, and Shaun Alexander and Chris Samuels. They worked hard, and I think that Alabama could be my best bet for me to get into the NFL and get a good education."
Rebecca: Did you get close with any current players or recruits during your visits to Tuscaloosa?
Dont'a: "I haven't really talked to any players on the team, but when I went down to the Alabama-LSU game I spent a little time with Chris Jordan and Barrett Jones. I spent more time with Barrett Jones. He basically told me he was going to go to Alabama, and then a week later he commits."
"I hope that Chris Jordan will join the bandwagon and jump on with me and Barrett. Three of the biggest Tennessee prospects going down to Alabama and possibly us making a big impact on the Alabama program. I think that could do a lot for us."
Rebecca: Was it difficult for you to decide to leave the state of Tennessee?
Dont'a: "It's not bad. I don't have a problem with me leaving the state at all. It's not like all the way to California or somewhere like that, so it wasn't that big."
Rebecca: What about the pressure to stay in-state?
Dont'a: "There was some pressure for me to stay in-state. Where I live there are either Tennesssee fans, Alabama fans or Vanderbilt fans. It came down to Alabama and Vanderbilt. It wasn't much pressure, but everybody was like "you know I would like to see you in black and gold. What color is your blood?" and everything like that."
Rebecca: I know academics played a big part of your decision. Do you know your preference for a major?
Dont'a: "It's still out there. I think my first year I'm going to go 'undecided' anyway. I will probably sit down with the academic advisor and talk to him when I go there on my official visit and talk to him about my possible major."
Rebecca: Coach Thomas, with the play-offs upon you, are you glad to have this behind you?
Coach Thomas: "It's a process that you've got to go through sometimes, but the young man deserves it. I'm very proud for him."
Rebecca Johnston: Are you glad Dont'a?
Dont'a Hightower: "Yes. It probably would have been a little bit better if I had gotten it done during the season, but I want to put a focus on the play-offs right now for the team. We want to win a state championship, and I want to be able to focus on that right now and not worry too much about college. I'm glad I got it out of the way."
Dont'a: "He (Coach Thomas) never really pressured me at all about it. He was there with me step-by-step. He told me if there was anything I needed him to do he would do it. I'm pretty sure he's glad to get it out of the way because he had a number of coaches calling him dung the season."
"I never really answered my phone to any coaches just because I was concentrating on my high school career. It's my last year to play with these guys, and I wasn't too much worried about college. I think that he is glad as well as some other coaches are, to get it behind me and are pretty proud of me."
Rebecca: You faced Lipscomb the last weekend in October and they came out the victor. How are you feeling about your play-off game against them this week?
Dont'a: "I actually feel great about it. One problem we had last time when we played this team in the regular season my cousin, No.4 (Cavalla O'Neal), he was hurt. He's a big impact player on our defense. He's pretty much the key to our defense (safety). He's back."
"We still have one player out, but he's out for the season. He had a big impact on the offensive as well as the defensive side, but I think everybody is going to pick up the slack and just go in this game with their heads held high and play as hard as they can."
Rebecca: Have your practices gone well this week for the game?
Coach Thomas: "Our practices have gone very well. The game this week is very big, and it's just a situation where we are going to the next level in the play-offs. It's a very big deal for us. We just have to play well and come out and play together as a team and focus on what we are doing, and do our jobs."
Rebecca: Congratulations on your decision Dont'a, and we wish you the best of luck this week in the play-offs.
Dont'a: "OK thank you."
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