Saturday night Marquis Johnson took the field for warm-ups without knowing he would take the place of Alabama's best defensive back, Javier Arenas.
Arenas took a punch to the ribs in practice on Wednesday, was sore Thursday, and went through Friday walk-throughs. When he came out for warm-ups on Saturday, he informed coaches that he was too sore to play up to his usual standards.
So Marquis was pushed up to a key role without notice.
How did he perform? Try six broken up passes, three in the end zone that kept South Carolina from ever scoring a touchdown, and one quarterback hurry.
In fact Steve Spurrier was so intent on proving that Alabama's back-up was not up to par that he threw three times in a row the exact same play in the corner of the end zone thinking that surely this back-up couldn't cover it three times in a row.
In an interview with Marquis after the game, I got his thoughts on those plays and his role on the team; his feelings about the team; and a lot more.
On being given the news at the last second and perhaps not being mentally prepared for this role, he said things the coaches would be proud to hear.
"Lock down, cover like a blanket", he said, "They beat that into your head in every practice. Each of us knows what we're supposed to do, each one of us is ready, that's just good coaching.
"We feel we can substitute any position on this team and expect the same results. You never know when your name is going to be called, so when your opportunity comes up, you just have to step up."
On his feelings of having Spurrier, "pick on him" with those three throws in a row in the end zone he said, "Hey, you can't play scared, they can throw every play at me.
"That defensive line of ours put so much pressure on their QB that is just makes my job easier. The other cover guys have their guys so locked down, I'm glad he thought I was the weak link, because we don't have a weak link."
On the role of others who have "stepped up," Marquis said, "That's all season man. Anytime somebody's had the opportunity, they've make the most of it.
"No knock on any other school, but we are more than a few good players. We a whole team. Nobody is in this for themselves, you do it for the team. You do your job and trust everybody else to do theirs."
On the defense stepping up its game when the offense struggled, he said,"We tell each other all the time, 'We've got your back'. There have been times when the defense allowed a score and the offense went out and had our back and put up another score of their own and come back to the sideline and said 'We got your back' so lately, we've just been paying them back."
Tonight could have been Marquis' best game yet. It was made extra special by his family from Florida coming up for the game. They were waiting just outside for him during the interview.
"That was special having them here to see this game." Johnson said, "Especially a game like this."
On his accomplishment, Marquis said, "As good as this game was, there's still room for improvement, we'll take 24 hours and enjoy this game and then go over the film and fix the things we need to fix to get better."
In interviewing the other players they all sang a similar chord. Stepping up, taking opportunities, doing your job and improving every day.
Marquis Johnson is a perfect example of why this team may go all the way this year. Nobody in a supporting role feels any different than the starters. They are simply a part of the team, a gear in a machine whose goal is a team victory.
Nobody cares about individual achievements. Later in those interviews I asked Mark Ingram when he knew he was about to break a Bryant Denny Stadium record for most yards in a game.
"I didn't know it until a reporter asked me how it felt as I was walking off the field." Ingram said, "That's nice, but all the credit goes to that line who did an incredible job all night long. Anybody could have gained that yardage tonight with the help I was getting."
It's all about the team. This team reminds me of a Coach Bryant story when someone asked him what the hardest part of coaching was. He said, "My job is to get this group of boys to be a team with the same heartbeat. Some come in faster, some slower, they all have major differences.
"But when we get them playing with one heartbeat, all together, we have a team, and that's the hard part."
Nick Saban has accomplished that, and Coach Bryant would be proud of the job he's done. Spending time with these players shows that they all have one heartbeat, one mindset, and one goal. In many ways, interviewing one is like interviewing them all.
As Alabama draws closer to the end of the season one can sense that this team has it all together. Marquis Johnson is a perfect example.
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