Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Hightower steps up as defensive leader

With the new football season fast approaching, Alabama needs to develop leaders on both sides of the ball. For the offense, returning senior quarterback Greg McElroy seemed like the obvious choice.

On the defensive side of the ball, it is a bigger question. Last year’s defensive leader was junior linebacker Rolando McClain, who left Alabama a year early to go into the NFL draft.

So, who will take over his role?

Sophomore Dont’a Hightower, who only played in four games of the 2009 season before being injured, has taken up the high expectations McClain left as defensive leader.

Though he didn’t complete his second season, in his freshman year he managed to secure a starting position, only one of two freshmen to do so. He started in 12 games and played in all 14 during the 2008 season.

After that he was back in spring practice while the team prepped for the 2010 season. Instead of going back to his original Will linebacker position (weak side), head coach Nick Saban wanted Hightower in McClain’s old position.

“Coming into the spring, I was hoping to still be able to play the weak-side linebacker, and have Chris Jordan or Nico [Johnson] plug in and play the Mike [middle linebacker],” Hightower said. “But Coach Saban had a different thought in it. But, it’s worked out great.”

Stepping into McClain’s shoes has been no easy task, but Hightower said he’s much more comfortable in the Mike position and as signal caller.

“It’s kind of a tough duty trying to replace Rolando because he was such a great player, and he knew the defense so perfectly,” Hightower said. “It’s been a tough journey, but I feel so comfortable in it now. I feel like I’ve played Mike the entire time I’ve been here.”

Head coach Nick Saban said that Hightower has done a good job in his new role as the team’s defensive signal caller.

“Dont’a has really done well considering the circumstances,” Saban said. “He is in a new role as signal caller. It’s a bigger responsibility, a little more responsibility for leadership. He’s really done a good job of that. He’s really worked through. It’s always difficult when you come back from an injury, when you’re off for a long time getting yourself back in the kind of shape you’re used to being in.”

McClain is now with the Oakland Raiders, but Hightower said they still keep in touch, and he can pick McClain’s brain to find out how to fill this leadership position.

“I try not to bug him,” Hightower said. “I realize he’s always going to be one of those role models, mentors for me, but I try not to bother him too much because I realize he’s busy not being in college. I still talk to him. He gives me advice. I still talk to him to see how things are going every now and then.”

Junior running back Mark Ingram said he has seen great improvements in Hightower’s leadership ability as well as how he’s been playing in the new position.

“He’s a lot smarter, and he’s studying a lot of film,” Ingram said. “He knows that defense well. He learned a lot from Ro [McClain], and I think he’s tried to step into that role and be the best that he can, so I think he’s doing a great job with the defense, being a leader, telling everybody what to do.

“He’s playing faster, he’s playing smarter, and he knows a lot of what’s going on as far as the entire defense and what the offense is trying to do.”

One of the things Hightower puts the most emphasis on is watching film. He said during his injury, he spent much of his time in the film room, studying and learning the defense in even more detail.

“I feel like I surpassed that,” he said. “I feel like a totally different player. I feel like I play a lot faster, I recognize things a lot quicker, and having that year off helped me get in the film room and learn the defense and learn the in-and-outs and why exactly do we do this instead of doing this. So, I’m excited for the first game. I’m looking forward to it.”

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