The Western Kentucky football team has spoken all week about the opportunity to showcase its program on a national stage against top-ranked Alabama.
For some Hilltoppers (1-0) though, it’s a chance to return home and play on a stage they fantasized about as children.
“It’s a dream come true to play against a powerhouse in my home state,” junior linebacker Chuck Franks said. “I always dreamed about it. I worked hard as a kid, worked hard as a high school player and now as a college player. I figured one day it would come. It’s just a dream come true.”
Franks, from Fayette County High School in Fayette, Ala., is one of six current WKU players who hail from Alabama.
The sextet grew up watching Alabama – or Auburn – football as kids. They’ve been a vital source of information for their teammates on what to expect Saturday when WKU rolls into Bryant-Denny Stadium for a 2:39 p.m. kickoff.
“I attended, like, six Iron Bowls – Auburn-Alabama,” said junior fullback Demetrius Coley of Bay Minette, Ala. “The crowd noise is just going to be unreal. I’ve never been on the field, but I’ve been in the stands. It’s something everybody should experience someday.”
The Tops will certainly get to experience that atmosphere when they visit for Alabama’s home opener, where more than 100,000 fans will get their first chance to see the 2012 Crimson Tide (1-0).
Coming off a 41-14 dismantling of Michigan, Alabama is once again a national title contender and looking to start 2-0 for the eighth straight season.
“I think the focus for our team is, any time you play a first game, you kind of see what some areas of the team you need to really improve, work hard on, and that’s certainly been our focus (this week),” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We just want to continue to do the things that we need to do to improve and progress as a team. We need a tremendous amount of improvement to try and be the team that we can be.”
Alabama returned 12 starters after going 12-1 in 2011. Led by junior quarterback A.J. McCarron, the Tide threw for 215 yards and rushed for 214 yards per game last year.
Running back T.J. Yeldon became the first true freshman at Alabama to rush for more than 100 yards in his debut, going for 111 on 11 carries against UM.
Defensively, Alabama’s 3-4 scheme is traditionally one of the toughest to run – and score – against. Alabama allowed 8.2 points a game in 2011.
Junior defensive back Dee Milliner is the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Week after five tackles, an interception and four pass breakups in the opener.
For Western Kentucky’s offense, getting past the Tide’s front line will be half the battle.
“They got the three down linemen to try and keep our O-line off their linebackers,” senior tight end Jack Doyle said. “That’s something we’re focused on, is our double teams have to be great and we have to be able to get off and get to the next level and bother those guys a little bit.”
Controlling emotions Saturday afternoon will also be an X-factor for the visitors, and especially for the boys from ’Bama.
Defensive end and linebacker T.J. Smith grew in Hazel Green, Ala., and is licking his chops about Saturday’s game.
“I’ll tell you what, we’re gonna freaking win this game,” Smith said. “Truly, we got a great defense, great linebackers – so watch this game, we’re gonna win.”
He also grew up as an Auburn fan – a natural enemy of everything Crimson Tide.
“We really don’t like Alabama – anything about Alabama,” the sophomore said of his family. “Dad, he didn’t like Alabama, Momma didn’t like Alabama, so I didn’t like Alabama.”