Former pro athlete to walk on at Bama

With scholarships at a premium the recent decision by former pro baseball pitcher Mike Machen to walk on and play quarterback for the Crimson Tide is very important news for the program.

Machen, 6-6 and 225 pounds, prepped at McGill Toolen high school in Mobile, Alabama, playing football, basketball and obviously baseball. "Alabama has no idea the quality of player that they are getting," said Chris Nemith, Machen's high school football coach.

He graduated high school in spring of 2000 and signed to play baseball with Coach Jim Wells and The University of Alabama. However, Machen was selected that year in the 14th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Atlanta Braves. Impressed with his size and talent---Machen's fastball has been clocked at 94 mph---the Braves offered him fifth-round money and Machen became a professional baseball player.

Part of his signing package was a clause which stipulated that his college education would be paid for if he decided to return and play football.

In the minor leagues Machen showed a live arm with good off-speed pitches, but injuries hampered his progress. Machen moved from the Braves to the Baltimore Orioles, where he spent the past two seasons. But after concluding that Double A ball was the highest he'd go, Machen made the decision to give up baseball and college football a try.

Machen took an unofficial visit to the Alabama campus this fall, during which time he attended Tide practices and met with Dennis Franchione and his staff. Machen actually decided to walk on at Alabama several days ago, but he delayed his announcement until he could inform the Orioles of his plans.

A tall, lanky youngster, Machen was a versatile athlete in high school. Machen did not play football as a high school junior, due to a difference of opinion with McGill Toolen's previous football staff. That year's squad went 1-9 with current Ole Miss backup David Morris at quarterback. But the arrival of Coach Chris Nemith brought Machen back to football for his senior year.

Playing in a west-coast style offense, Machen produced impressive numbers. Despite playing behind an offensive line that averaged no more than 200 pounds per man, Machen completed 110 of 256 passes for 1520 yards and eight touchdowns. Machen was clocked in high school at 4.51 in the 40-yard dash, and as a senior he ran for 330 yards and six TDs.

Led by their tall quarterback, McGill Toolen went 7-5 in the regular season before advancing to the second round of the state playoffs. Interestingly, Alma Bryant high school eliminated Machen's team from the playoffs. Undefeated at the time, Alma Bryant featured a tall, swift defensive end named Antwan Odom.

Machen's high school coach had earlier helped tutor Thad Busby who later played for the Florida State Seminoles. "Mike has the same roll-out form and passing style of Busby," Nemith said. "But in terms of mobility, tenacity and weight-room exploits, Mike is far better."

Machen will enter The University in January of 2003, with plans to redshirt his first year. He wants to use the time to acclimate to college life, learn the Tide offensive system and get reacquainted with the weight room on a daily basis.

Machen carried a 3.9 GPA in high school, and he scored 24 on the ACT. Qualifying will not be a concern.

Because of his status as a former pro baseball player, Machen will pay his own way to college. He will be considered a non-recruited walk-on, which means he will not count against either Bama's initial counter numbers for 2003 nor its overall 80 limit.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Adding an athlete or two of Machen's ability over the next year or so without impacting Alabama's scholarship numbers will go a long way toward helping the Tide bridge the scholarship gap imposed by NCAA sanctions.

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