Alabama's Coffee driven by renewed faith

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Glen Coffee's running style is pretty simple.

"Be tougher than the defender trying to tackle you," said Coffee, who's not exceptionally fast or exceptionally big. "I've never really been a shifty guy, and I know I have to make up for my size. So when I'm running the ball, I want to make sure I'm the one delivering the blow."

The Alabama junior tailback is listed at 198 pounds, but runs a lot bigger.

"He's one of those guys who will try to get inside your pads when you tackle him," Alabama safety Rashad Johnson said.

It was like that the day Coffee stepped foot on campus. It's like that now with Coffee having a career year in what's been a magical ride for No. 1-ranked Alabama heading into Saturday's showdown with LSU at Tiger Stadium.

For Coffee, the big difference has been his health, both physical and spiritual.

"Last year, I played as hard as I could, but I think I played for the wrong reasons," said Coffee, who's fourth in the SEC in rushing with 894 yards. "In the middle of the season last year, I found Christ. One of my goals this year was to glorify his name and run with a passion."

He's certainly done that and has gained a reputation around the SEC as one of the most rugged ball-carriers in the league. He's averaging 6.6 yards per carry, which is second only to LSU's Charles Scott. Scott is averaging 6.7 yards.

Coffee, vying to become the 13th player in Alabama history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, has been able to stay fresh as part of the Crimson Tide's three-pronged rushing attack. He's shared the carries along with freshman Mark Ingram and junior Roy Upchurch.

Alabama leads the SEC in rushing with an average of 205.3 yards per game, and Coffee takes pride in the fact that the Crimson Tide make no pretenses about how they plan to move the ball.

"Other teams know what we're about to bring to the table, and it's a challenge to see them try to stop it even though they know what we're doing," he said.

Coffee was never completely healthy a year ago. He had arthroscopic knee surgery before the season and then tore the labrum in his shoulder during the season, which required surgery following the season.

He was also one of the players caught up in the whole textbook fiasco and was suspended for four games. Just two games earlier, he had rushed for what was then a career-high 121 yards against Houston and also caught six passes.

It was just his latest setback in a career that could never seem to get going -- until now.

Coffee wrecked his other knee his second year on campus and ended up redshirting and missing the entire season. As a freshman, he had a sports hernia that required surgery.

"For a while, living up here, I was depressed," Coffee said. "I wasn't having fun. I wasn't satisfied. There had to be something more, and I found Christ. That put everything in perspective for me."

Coffee was also scarred some by what he said was a rocky relationship between his mother and father. They split up when he was in high school and ultimately divorced.

All the while, he became more interested in partying and looking for a good time and admittedly wasn't the most pleasant person to be around.

"I look back on it now and think about how I was living and what a lot of people live for," said Coffee, who now speaks to church groups and youth groups. "In high school, I was a football star and all that, but there was something missing. There had to be more, and I found it.

"My life changed when I found Christ."

Coffee's mother, Doris, said her son has always been a good person.

"I just think he's matured a lot the last two years," she said. "He makes better decisions and is more focused on the positives, and his faith is tremendous."

Coffee grew up in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and his younger brother, Matt, is also a big-time prospect. He's already committed to South Carolina and is expected to play linebacker in college.

The Alabama-LSU game will take on special meaning for Doris. Her family is from Houma, La., which is where she grew up. Of course, for Coffee, that means he's been trying all week to scrounge up extra tickets.

Although she was raised in the shadow of LSU football, Doris wants to make one thing clear. She was never an LSU fan.

"I was a Saints fan," she quipped.

Doris has managed to see every one of Coffee's games since he's been at Alabama except for the Ole Miss game earlier this season. She stayed with Matt that weekend because he was having knee surgery.

"Glen's worked hard and hung in there through a lot of adversity," Doris said. "He deserves everything he's getting now."