CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

July 24, 2010

ALABAMA FOOTBALL: Hightower ‘hungry as ever’

Tide star linebacker missed most of last season with knee injury

By Justin Graves
The Cullman Times

HOOVER — Dont’a Hightower doesn’t deny it.

Watching from the sidelines as Alabama won the BCS National Championship was, well, difficult for the injured Crimson Tide linebacker.

Hightower saw his season end during the Arkansas game on Sept. 26 when he tore ligaments in his left knee after taking a cut block from Razorbacks offensive lineman Mitch Petrus.

The injury created a void in Hightower’s life — one that became more and more painful as the season progressed.

“Going 14-0, and me only being able to play in three of the games, of course there’s always been a thought in the back of mind that that I could’ve been a part of something special,” Hightower said. “Not being out there was one thing, but whenever you play football your whole life, and then you have it taken away from you, it hurts.”

Now Hightower is back with a clean bill of health. And because of that unwanted time on the sideline, the junior linebacker is more motivated than ever.

“Hunger was actually one of the things that motivated me most,” Hightower said. “Just being back on the field, that’s one of the things that I’m really motivated about.”

After missing almost all of last season, Hightower returned to the field for spring practice.

Hightower had been eagerly awaiting his return to full contact for months, so his first instinct was to …

“Hit somebody,” Hightower said. “I hadn’t had any contact in like six months, so I was out there trying to kill somebody.

“Unfortunately I wasn’t able to move as well as I thought I could, but it still felt great.”

With fall practice looming on Aug. 4, Hightower says his mobility is no longer an issue. Now he faces the daunting task of replacing former Tide inside linebacker Rolando McClain — a first-round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders — as the heart and soul of Alabama’s defense.

Hightower earned a starting role on Alabama’s defense as a true freshman in 2008, recording 64 tackles.

He started the first the first four games of last season before getting injured in the first quarter of the Arkansas game.

But even though Hightower is the most-experienced member of Alabama’s linebacker corps, Tide coach Nick Saban said he doesn’t want the junior to take over McClain’s vacated role on defense.

At least not solely.

“They’re two completely different players,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Dont’a is a very good inside linebacker. But the thing he does a little bit better than Ro, is Ro was the signal-caller, the leader out there. Dont’a is a little bit more of a pass-rusher, could play defensive end. He can move around and play multiple positions where Rolando McClain played the same position all the time.

“I’m hopeful that Dont’a will not have to be the signal-caller all the time so he can play some of those other roles, as well, because they are tremendous assets for him and would be assets for our defense.”

Regardless of what his role will be, Hightower is glad to be healthy and back on the field.

And now he wants his shot at being part of something special.

“I think we can be just as good as last year,” Hightower said. We’re going to be a lot faster and have a lot more athleticism (on defense). We may not have as much size, but I think we’re going to be great.

“I’m as hungry as ever … I’m just motivated about getting back on the field.”

Justin Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 257 or by e-mail at jgraves@cullmantimes.com.