Big-play corner comes back for more

Since only returning seniors are exempt from the NCAA rules, the concerns regarding underclassmen and transfers were not as great. But fans worried about Texas natives like Charlie Peprah anyway.

However, in a conversation with earlier this week, the Freshman All America squashed that idea immediately. "I'm not going anywhere, man--especially not to (Texas) A&M," Peprah said. "I'm definitely coming back."

With their ties to the Midwest, the previous staff had brought in several athletes native to Texas, including Peprah and tailback Shaud Williams. "Me and Shaud have talked about that before," Peprah continued. "I've made way too many friends. I'm too comfortable. I like Alabama and Tuscaloosa. I love the fans. I love the whole football program. I'm coming back to graduate.

Peprah's takeaway for a touchdown versus Georgia was one of the most exciting moments of the 2002 season. (Associated Press)

"I'm definitely staying."

A complete changeover in coaching staffs is never easy, but so far at least Peprah likes what he's seen from Bama's new head coach, Mike Price. "I've seen him on television a couple of times," Peprah said. "They say he's a pretty cool guy. I haven't heard anything bad about him. Coming off two 10-win seasons in a row and winning the PAC-10, that's really good."

As the Tide's top returning athlete at cornerback, Peprah is primarily concerned with defensive schemes. But he talked about Price's reputation for throwing the football. "I'm excited for (quarterback) Brodie Croyle, and I know they'll utilize Shaud. He'll get plenty of yards in that offense.

"At first when Shaud heard that Price ran the spread offense, he was like ‘Aw, dang!' But he did his research and now realizes that he's in a good position. They can run draws with him, he'll catch passes out of the backfield and get his runs as well."

As a redshirt freshman Peprah started several games for Alabama. Most of the season he backed up senior Hirchel Bolden, but Peprah definitely made his on-the-field minutes count.

For the year Peprah totaled 42 tackles, tops among reserve players. But his three interceptions and a forced fumbled showcased his penchant for the big play. All season long there was no more electrifying moment than when Peprah wrestled a pass away from the Georgia receiver, taking the turnover in for the touchdown to give Bama a brief fourth-quarter lead.

Shown talking to a reporter after practice, Peprah is a real physical presence at cornerback.

"When I was out there, I tried to make some big plays," Peprah explained. "That's my mindset. I think back to the Georgia game when (receiver Fred) Gibson was bobbling the ball. For a split second I was thinking about just KOing him. I had a clean shot at him, because he was bobbling the ball.

"But then I decided to just go take it."

A versatile athlete, Peprah played offense and defense in high school. But he's settled in nicely at cornerback in college. "I've got no problem playing defensive back--DB is fun," Peprah said. "Of course it's a lot more fun and exciting when you score a defensive touchdown than one on offense."

Bolden and Gerald Dixon, Bama's two senior starters at cornerback last season, have now graduated. Peprah says that his responsibilities will now increase. "It's kind of there for me and Anthony Madison and Roberto McBride and David Scott and Ramzee Robinson to step up and take control of the secondary."

"There will be a lot of pressure on both of us--me and Anthony--to start now," Peprah continued. "But that's just the nature of the game."

Bama's 2002 stop unit was among the nation's best, rated first in the SEC and third in the country. It'll be hard to duplicate that production, but Peprah thinks it's possible. "I think we'll be just as good as last year, if not better," he stated. "Of course we're losing three key defensive linemen in Jarret Johnson, Kindal Moorehead and Kenny King. But you've got Antwan Odom coming back, who was just as good as any of them. And ‘Chief' (Nautyn McKay-Loescher) who played great last year. Ahmad Childress and Todd Bates, he's got a motor on him. Kyle Tatum and the other true freshmen are coming around pretty good.

"I think we'll be all right."

Technically, Peprah spent most of the season as a back-up, but all year long he was easily the Tide's most effective big-play defensive back.

Talent-wise, Peprah thinks next year's team will be fine. But a new coordinator and the possibility of new defensive schemes will present a challenge. "The only thing I'm worried about is just being ready in time for the season, playing to our capability," Peprah explained. "We'll have to learn a new system, and I don't want that to get in the way. I don't want to not be sharp on the field and have missed assignments, like we did when Coach Torbush first got here. I don't think we played to our full potential that season, because we had some good athletes when they first got here.

"I hope that we're able to learn everything and be comfortable at the start of the season. Then we can just play and not worry about letting the new scheme get in the way of our progress."

One of the brighter and more personable players on the squad, Peprah quickly became a fan favorite last season--a key reason he is determined to finish his career at Alabama. "That's cool--that's what you want," he said. "We love the fans (in Tuscaloosa). I talked to Shaud about that. The Alabama fans are so unique. He didn't get that at Texas Tech (Williams' previous school). You don't get that much fan support in too many places. Alabama fans are just awesome.

"We just love it."

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Normally, this would be a Crimson Ticket story, available only to subscribers. But this week all website content, including the entire network, is free of charge.

BamaMag Top Stories