Hightower Says On Pace To Return

Alabama Coach Nick Saban knows that injuries are a part of football. Following the Arkansas game, in which sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower suffered a serious knee injury, the Crimson Tide coach was clearly saddened.

Dont'a Hightower had an extraordinary freshman season for Alabama, earning Freshman All-America and starting 12 games for the Crimson Tide. In the fourth game of this season, the 6-4, 255-pound Hightower was caught by a cut block (a legal block) in the Tide's win over Arkansas.

"I tore my ACL, my MCL and my Meniscus," Hightower said Wednesday in his first meeting with sportswriters since prior to the injury on September 26. "So I pretty much have a brand-new knee."

Needless to say, it was a very bad injury. Hightower said, "I've talked to Dr. (Lyle) Cain and (trainer) Jeff Allen, and they say my progress is good. I'm way ahead of schedule so hopefully I'll be back in the spring doing agilities with those guys. Hopefully, I'll be back a couple of weeks before (2010) fall camp. I'll be back with the team, out there on the field with them."

Crimson Tide players have talked about the emotional support they have received from Hightower being back around the players on the practice field, although Hightower's activity is limited to rehabilitation.

"I don't want to feel like that I'm going to isolate myself just because I'm not able to play, because that's not the type of person I am and that's not the type of players that's on this team," Hightower said.

In his absence, freshman Nico Johnson has stepped into the weakside linebacker spot in the middle of the Bama defense.

" Nico Johnson is doing a great job right now," Hightower said. "I know he's pretty young. There's just a couple of things that he doesn't know right now and that's I've been through. I've seen what he's seeing now. So I'm able to coach him up."

Hightower is visible on an exercise bicycle.

"You wouldn't believe it, but that bike is something serious," Hightower said. "It works all your muscles in your upper body. I work a little bit lower-body as much as I can. It's a pretty good workout."

It's no surprise that the worst days for Hightower are game days when his teammates are on the field. He watches "knowing that the most I can do is coach them up in between plays and series. I guess it kind of has its advantages. Now that I know that I've been there, just playing four games of an entire season and possibly having more games to play, next year I'm just going to have to come back with a relentless attitude. Even at practice, even during drills, you can't take a play off, because at any given time, that can be taken away from you. I want to be able to avoid that.

"God does everything for a reason. We might not know what that reason is, but you've just got to take that as a bump in the road (toward) the goals that I've set. I'm just going to have to reset those goals and do the best I can for the time being."

Hightower described the play on which he was injured.

"They ran a toss," he said. "I went to pursue the play, the running back. I wanted to take the guard off and make him bounce back to Rolando (McClain). He just cut me. I didn't play it well enough. Coach Saban and I keep watching it. It's just one of those plays. I couldn't do anything about it.

"I played it to my best abilities. I guess he just was better at cutting than I was at playing the cut. It looked like he was going to take me up high, and he just dropped down and got my leg.

"When it happened, I really didn't feel the pain. My adrenaline was pumping, and I was pretty upset that it happened. I knew it was something bad, because I tried to get up and walk on it and I couldn't. I figured it was bad. I was hoping that maybe it was just a sprain or something but worse came to worse."

Before that injury, the worst Hightower had ever suffered was a broken arm. He said he had never even had a torn muscle.

Hightower will be back next season if he continues to recover on the current pace. More problematic is whether his running mate at inside linebacker, Rolando McClain, will be back. McClain is a junior, but expected to be a high draft choice if he elects to turn professional after this season.

Hightower was asked if he is campaigning McClain to stay another year.

"No, I'm not bugging him to stay," Hightower said. "We've talked about it. I mean, it‘s up to him. I don't want him to feel like he's obligated to stay just because of me. Whatever he does, it will be the best decision for him."

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