Night of Champions set for Friday

With a new head coach on board, fans immediately wondered about Coach Price's emphasis on the Alabama strength program. But as Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Ben Pollard relates, they needn't have worried. <br><br>"On the day I first met him when he stopped by the weight room, he asked ‘Are you still going to do the Night of Champions?'"

"I told him ‘Absolutely,'" Ben Pollard continued. "It's something our fans and kids really enjoyed, so I wanted to continue. But that was one of the first things he asked."

Dre Fulgham will take part on the bench press.

A fan favorite, Bama's "Night of Champions" weightlifting demonstration, featuring members of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team, will make its annual appearance Friday (Feb. 28) at 7 p.m. The event is free to the public and will be held on the main floor in Coleman Coliseum.

Various weight-lifting stations for the flat bench press, the hang clean and the squat will be set up on the gymnasium floor with fans situated in the stands in front. Measurement towers for the vertical jump will also be set up. Twenty-three players are tentatively scheduled to participate, but virtually all remaining squad members will crowd behind to lend their encouragement. Highlights from last season's game action will be shown on the video screens prior to the start, and instant-replay action will also be utilized during the event.

For each of the past two years, several thousand fans have attended to cheer on the Tide athletes, and Coach Pollard hopes that support will continue. "For those that haven't seen one it's hard to explain exactly what to expect," he said. "We added a lot of young kids to the lineup this year. There will still be a level of competition between the individual guys.

"The fans are going to be impressed with what they can do."

Pollard was the only coach hired by Bama's former head coach who chose to stay in Tuscaloosa when the previous staff left. Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore knew how valuable Pollard was to the program, moving quickly to retain Pollard on staff. And Mike Price was very pleased as well. "Coach Price has been very supportive of what I've done," Pollard said. "In a way the players will be putting on a show for their new head coach Friday night as much as for the fans."

Though nursing a shoulder injury, Clint Johnston will take part in the hang clean.

Football has become a year-round sport, with players working hard during winter and summer months in the weight room. But those efforts normally go unnoticed, which is one reason Pollard looks forward to Friday. "It's a way to motivate the players to perform," he explained. "At this point in the year they need something. They haven't had that opportunity to perform since the Hawaii game. The athletes haven't seen the fans in months."

"Performance usually reaches a peak because it's such an adrenaline rush for them to be out there," Pollard continued. "Friday is an opportunity for people to see what we do and get an idea of what a 500-pound squat looks like, what a 350-pound clean looks like. We hope that guys will lift more than they ever have, but it will be set up as a demonstration, not competition. We'll be trying to max-out in the three lifts. But there will be some competition between players. There always is."

The squad has spent all week testing, maxing out on the various lifts. Those lifts take place in the weight room with coaches and several teammates on hand. But nothing can match the excitement of performing in front of cheering fans. "We've had kids that put up big numbers in front of the crowd, but then go back to regular training and struggle to put up the same numbers," Pollard explained. "You can't simulate the Night of Champions conditions in the weight room."

Now enjoying greater authority to organize and plan his conditioning program under Coach Price, Pollard has made changes in the way progress is recognized. But the Iron Man Trophy will continue to be a prestigious honor. Based on the total weight each player can lift divided by his body weight, only the very strongest, best conditioned athletes qualify.

Shown here performing an upright row last summer, Greg McLain will exhibit the squat Friday.

"We'll give the Iron Man (Friday)," Pollard said. "Again we'll divide it into our skill players (wide receivers, defensive backs and quarterbacks) stand ups (running backs and linebackers) and our linemen groups. That last group will be divided into 275 pounds and below and 275 and above. Four athletes will be honored."

Roberto McBride, Antwan Odom and Atlas Herrion all won the Iron Man Award last year (along with Theo Sanders). For McBride it was his second time to be so honored.

Several Tiders that have participated in years past will be missing from Friday's lineup. Tailback Shaud Williams will be playing baseball, and other athletes like Lance Taylor are being careful while recovering from injuries. "There is still a little bit of rehab going on," Pollard explained. "We have some guys that are still dealing with injuries from the season. They need to get their strength levels back. Clint Johnston is one, because of his shoulder. Donald Clarke and some other kids are limited."

While noting that the event is not just for the high-profile athletes, Pollard revealed Friday's lineup.

Bench Press

Hang Clean

Squat

Brothers Nic (left) and Triandos Luke (right) will both perform Friday night.

Receivers Brandon Brooks and Triandos Luke will take part in the vertical jump demonstration.

In addition to the regular exhibitions, Coach Pollard and the players have planned something special for the crowd. The exact nature of the "Special Contest" is a closely guarded secret, but Pollard thinks the spectators will enjoy themselves.

"We're just going to do something fun," Pollard said. "Just to let fans see a little different side of this group of guys--more of their athletic ability than just their football and weight lifting. They'll step outside of weight lifting and show them something a little different. It'll be at the end, after we've done all the lifting."

Players scheduled to take part in the "Special Contest" include Anthony Bryant, Dre Fulgham, Zach Fletcher, Juwan Garth and Mark Anderson.

Pollard declined to say more, but he did reveal that the crowd would select the winner for the final event. "I'll step out and let the fans decide who's the most entertaining out of that group," he said.


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