Arenas Tips Hat To Tulane Coach

Javier Arenas wasn't wearing a hat when he met with sportswriters Monday, but it wasn't because he couldn't get one on after the smack to the noggin he took against Tulane Saturday night. Arenas, who wears several hats for Bama, said he would tip his hat to Green Wave Coach Bob Toledo.

Alabama junior Javier Arenas is not well known as a cornerback, his primary position on the Bama football team. He is very well known as the Crimson Tide's kick return specialist. In Bama's 20-6 win over Tulane Saturday night, Arenas broke the Alabama record for punt return yards in a game in the first half with 141 yards. (Legendary Harry Gilmer had set the previous record of 122 in 1947 in a win over Georgia in Athens.)

Arenas would get only six more punt return yards in the game, on Tulane's first punt of the second half. Arenas caught the ball and tried to juke his way out of a jam. He's pretty good at that. In the first half he had been trapped, but escaped and turned the opportunity into an 87-yard touchdown drive. Even Alabama Coach Nick Saban was surprised. The coach thought Arenas had made a mistake, going backwards. Then Arenas stepped outside everyone and was off to the races.

"He has great quickness," Saban said. "The secret to being a great punt return man is being able to make one man miss. When you can do that in open space, you have a chance."

On Arenas first return of the second half, he was unable to escape. Instead, he ran head on into Tulane linebacker Jordan Ellis. Arenas lay quiet on the grass of Bryant-Denny Stadium for several minutes and never returned to the game.

"I was okay after a few minutes," Arenas said Monday. "It didn't hurt because it knocked me out. I thought I could go back in, but as a precaution they kept me out."

Arenas doesn't agree with the strategy of not punting to a good return man. "If you don't kick [to the return man], you're saying your coverage team isn't good enough," Arenas said. "My hat's off to the Tulane coach. They kept kicking. And they got me."

Arenas also had an explanation for going backwards before starting towards the goalline on his 87-yard touchdown. "The only reason I went back is because one of their guys grabbed me and slung me back," Arenas said. "I was just trying to make the best of a bad situation. Then I got outside."

Arenas was named Special Teams Player of the Week by the Southeastern Conference and was one of three Alabama players selected for that honor by the Crimson Tide coaching staff. (Roy Upchurch, who blocked a punt, and Chris Rogers, who caught it and ran it in for a touchdown, were also cited as Alabama Special Teams Players of the Week.) >br>
Arenas is aware that he set an Alabama record, and said that he is proud of that. "But that's the sort of thing that will mean more to me after I'm gone," he said.

The touchdown was Arenas' fourth, which ties the Alabama career record held by David Palmer. "I've seen him on tape," Arenas said of Palmer, who scored his touchdowns in a three-year span, 1991-93. "I know he's a hero around here. I don't compare myself to him. I'm not going to let that be a distraction."

Arenas, 5-9, 198, said he is "good to go" for Saturday when the Crimson Tide hosts Western Kentucky. Arenas is one Bama player not likely to overlook an opponent because it doesn't have a big name. He was expected to play at a Florida Atlantic or Florida International before getting a late scholarship offer from Alabama. "I know how good those so-called small schools can be," he said. "We can't let it happen to us. We need to go out there and lay like we're playing the national champions."

Alabama will host Western Kentucky at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game will be available on television on a pay-per-view basis.

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