In many ways, overcoming adversity could be the theme of Alabama's 2009 BCS Championship team. For the most part, these players were not blue chip recruits coming out of high school. Many also faced tough personal struggles. Yet all managed to come together as a team and use their determination in the face of adversity to drive them towards success.
Despite many players, including team leaders, having been recruited by a previous head coach, all bought into Coach Nick Saban's "Process," and to paraphrase Coach Paul Bryant, had "the will to prepare to win."
While I'm sure I don't have information on all the players who faced difficulties, here is a selection:
Cornerback Javier Arenas was a player hardly any one wanted to take a chance on. Most coaches felt he was too short and not quite fast enough. Alabama was the only major program to offer him a scholarship. In fact, the only other FBS programs to offer him were Florida Atlantic and Florida International. In addition to being a solid cornerback, he also holds the SEC career punt return record and came close to breaking the NCAA record.
Nose tackle Terrence Cody grew up the oldest of eight children. His father died when he was 11 and his mother worked two jobs to provide for them. He had to move in with a teammate's family in high school due to the family's troubles. He also struggled with academics, not being able to play through much of high school due to grades. Subsequently, he also had to attend Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College for two years to get his grades up to qualify academically for Alabama.
In addition, his struggles with his weight are also well known. While many fans of rival teams ridicule him for it, statistics show people from impoverished backgrounds in America are more likely to struggle with their weight because the cheapest foods are some of the unhealthiest.
Defensive End Brandon Deaderick was shot during an attempted robbery mere days before the season opener against Virgina Tech. He did not miss the game.
Running back Mark Ingram's story is nationally known at this point. He has had to deal with his father's conviction for bank fraud and money laundering and subsequently jumping bail last year attempting to see his son play in the Sugar Bowl. He still managed to win Alabama's first Heisman award despite being only the 12th highest rated running back of 2008 according to ESPN. While some players could let a Heisman win go to their heads, Ingram pushed through the pain of a visible leg cramp in the fouth quarter of the BCS championship to help secure the win for his team.
Inside linebacker Rolando McClain faced family difficulties early on. He had a restraining order against his mother for a year because he said she hit him repeatedly and threatened to kill him with a knife. A couple years later a police officer swore an affidavit that she threatened to kill everyone at Decatur High School and Morgan County Courthouse that had anything to do with her son.
She plead guilty to that charge in 2008. She has also been considered disabled since 2006 due to the same Crohn's disease McClain was once diagnosed with. She and her husband declared bankruptcy a few years ago and McClain's father acknowledged owing her $35,000 in child support. McClain's father has had troubles himself, having been convicted of selling cocaine several years ago and has been out of work for three years. He briefly lived with his father after the knife incident but did not stay there because he would have had to switch schools, and instead shuffled between families of his friends.
Coincidentally, the father in one of those families played basketball for Ole Miss with the father of the family that took in Michael Oher. McClain called plays for the defense and played through the flu in the BCS championship, receiving multiple fluid IVS before and during the game.
Quarterback Greg McElroy did not grow up with the financial difficulties many players faced, but played behind former Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel for three years at South Lake-Carroll high school. Since most recruiting is done during a player's junior year, he did not have many offers coming out of high school.
He was not offered by state flagship school Texas, nor by Alabama initially. It was not until Tim Tebow chose Florida that the Tide offered McElroy, and he then switched from Texas Tech. You have to think knowing he was playing against Alabama's first choice of quarterback, Tebow, gave him extra determination to win his SEC Championship MVP, while Tebow was left in tears.
He went on to finish the fourth quarter of the SEC championship game and played the entirety of the BCS championship game with cracked ribs.
It's a credit to these players' hard work and determination that they were able overcome poverty, a difficult family life, or being a player no one wanted to run the table against 14 teams and win the 2009 SEC and BCS championships.
[Credit to Don Kausler, Jr. of The Birmingham News for the McClain information]