Tiders Working To Stay On Top

Moments after Alabama's magnificent win over the Florida Gators to capture SEC Championship No. 22, it was No. 22 who had a lot to say about the reasons why Alabama 2009 was a champion. Ingram said, "Everything we did--every wind sprint, every lap, every snap of the ball; everything we did--was to be better than them."

Staying on the mountaintop has always been more difficult than the climb to the peak. So what is the benchmark this year for Alabama football, the measuring stick for the 2010 Crimson Tide? If last year it was Florida, then what will it be this season?

At this year's SEC Media Days, Bama Coach Nick Saban made it clear that "It's 2010 now. What happened last year has no bearing on what's going to happen this season. 2009 was fantastic, a great year. We are always going to remember what a special team last year's team was. But this is a new team, and a new challenge."

Tailback Mark Ingram, quarterback Greg McElroy, and linebacker Dont'a Hightower were Alabama's player representatives to meet with the press this week in Hoover.

"None of us wore our (national championship) rings to this event today," said McElroy the fifth year senior Tide signal-caller. "Last year is in the past. What happened last year will never be forgotten and it was awesome, but this is a new team, a new challenge, and we want to be the best team we can be. We don't want to lose to anyone. Ever. We want to be the best team, the best program in college football year in and year out. We will not slack up one bit. We won't concede anything to anyone."

This group of media day guys is a special group indeed. McElroy is a tremendous leader with a swagger than comes with being undefeated as a high school and college quarterback. Confidence is everything when you are the signal-caller. GMac is the leader on a team filled with leaders and exemplifies the attitude, the heart and soul of a champion, the will and guts of a player who refuses to be denied. "Blood , sweat and tears is what it's all about," he said. "We came to Alabama to be champions. We expected this, to be in this position. We know what it takes to win a championship but this team is just as hungry to go win another one. And those are the two goals of this team. Win the SEC Championship and win the BCS National Championship. We want to be remembered for excellence and being the best that's ever played the game. That's the legacy we want to leave."

Ingram made it clear he is hungry as ever after a record setting season, one that included the greatest individual award in sports, the Heisman Trophy. "We know that we have bullseyes on our back, teams that want to knock us off," said the junior tailback. "They're going to bring their best week in and week out. We're focused on ourselves, bettering ourselves as a team, individually and collectively as a unit every single day. We can't be focused on what other teams are doing. We can only control what we do as a team. That's what our main focus is on, becoming a better team each and every day and giving ourselves a chance to win each Saturday."

Ingram knows the road ahead will be difficult. He knows the room at the summit is the goal of every college team in the land, and that to get there means knocking the Crimson Tide off. Ingram said, "We believe we have the players, the athletes, the mentality we need to give ourselves a chance to play for a national championship again and win it again. I think we have a lot of our players coming back on offense. But on defense, we lost a lot. We have a lot of young guys that step up and they're play-makers, get to the ball, make a lot of plays. They're fast and explosive. They do a lot of great things on that side of the ball. I think they can be better.

"It's a matter of everybody individually getting better, then us improving as a unit, gelling as a unit, to give ourselves the best opportunity to win each game each Saturday one game at a time. Hopefully that will lead us to a national championship again."

Dont'a Hightower missed out on a lot last season. A devastating knee injury took the season from the 6-4 260-pund heat-seeking missile. Hightower sat on the sidelines watching and learning. And he believes last season's misfortune could have been a blessing in disguise. "Having to sit out last season was tough physically as well as mentally," he said. "But it made me hungry and it taught me some incredible things. I learned why we do certain things on defense. I learned why we do this coverage or have this blitz called in various situations. We have a very complicated defense, and last season taught me why we do what we do."

‘When pressed on the issue about the motivation for this season. Hightower responded in classic style. "I am the leader on defense," he said. "Our people will be looking to me to make things happen. To get us in the right situation. To wreak havoc. To disrupt what the opponent is trying to do to us. I missed out on the on the field stuff last year and it's important that this team accomplishes all it's capable of doing. I want to make sure that happens. The hunger is definitely there to be the best. We all want to be champions again."

With leaders like Julio Jones, James Carpenter and Barrett Jones on offense to complement Ingram and McElroy, the offense could be one of the best in school history. If the Tide is going to repeat, it could be the job of the offense to keep the chains moving while the defense learns its way, at least early on.

Ingram said, "It's never gonna be easy. But we know what it takes to get back to that point and win the championship. We know what we did, how hard we worked. But now we're working even harder. We got to keep pushing ourselves harder because we have a bullseye on our back. Every team is going to give us their best shot when they play us. I'm sure we're circled on everybody's schedule this year.

"We're not worried about anybody else but ourselves, trying to get better, put ourselves in the best position to win each game each Saturday and take it one game at a time."

One game at a time is how this season will be taken. Laser-like focus from a group that knows nothing but winning. So who is the measuring stick for Alabama in 2010? All they have to do is look to the practice field. A new champion is being bred.

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