TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- On Friday, the parade for the University of Alabama officially came to a halt. The 2011 national championship run ended when the Crimson Tide strapped on their helmets for the first time in two months and began spring practice.
The crystal ball has vanished from memory, the partying on Bourbon Street left to those in New Orleans interested in SEC basketball.
Back home in Tuscaloosa, a new drive to the BCS began with an opening whistle on Friday afternoon and a sharp reminder not to let the 2010 season happen again.
Coming off the Tide’s 13th national championship two years ago, a hangover set in. Drunk with success and armed with a preseason No. 1 ranking, UA slipped out of the gates and lost the competitive edge needed to stay on top.
In 2012, history has a chance to repeat itself if the Tide let it.
When Nick Saban addressed the media following Friday’s practice, he included in his opening statement an important message to his team and all those who might be listening.
“Understand that this is not the team that won the national championship,” Saban said. “It's very, very important that this team dedicates itself and commits itself to creating an identity of its own.”
The new roster all but dictates it. Nearly half the starters from 2011 are gone, on to lives beyond the crimson and white. The jersey numbers worn by the likes of Dre Kirkpatrick and Trent Richardson now have new occupants.
Senior Nico Johnson was a part of the 2009 squad that won in the Rose Bowl and remembered the championship fatigue that set in the following year. Johnson said an edict was laid down on Friday to not let that failure happen again.
“We still were thriving off the ’09 year,” Johnson said of the disappointing 10-3 finish in 2010. “The mindset the leaders have on this team is we don’t want that to happen again. That’s what we’re taking now and that’s what we’re going to roll with. Coach established today in a team meeting that we don’t want that to happen. We can’t let that happen.”
Johnson said he was impressed with the way his team came out for the first practice, quick on their feet and ready to work.
“Having the young guys we do have, I thought we’d come out slow,” Johnson said. “But we came out with a lot of intensity throughout the whole day. I’m ready to see how it plays out.”
Saban is, too. Now in his sixth year at Alabama, he doesn’t want his team playing with a sense of entitlement. He said spring practice is the best proving ground they have so everyone on the team must take advantage of the opportunity to rebuild from the ground up.
“You've never arrived so you certainly can't feel satisfied or feel entitled,” Saban said. “I hope this team is challenged and hungry in terms what they want to accomplish and what they want to do.”
Listening to Johnson speak, it’s clear the hunger is still there. Johnson said he’s stepping into a leadership role on defense along veterans Jesse Williams, Robert Lester and Damion Square. With so many experienced players gone, how they guide the underclassmen will be vital to the team's success.
“That’s going to be the key this year like it was last year, leadership,” Johnson said. “If we have the leadership, we should be OK.”
Alabama will take the week off for spring break before returning to the practice field on March 19. UA has 13 more practices before the annual A-Day scrimmage on April 14.