|Unlikely trio turns into defensive stars for Alabama|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 08 December 2007 11:33|
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Wallace Gilberry was serving pancakes, Rashad Johnson worked at a grocery store and Darren Mustin was a transfer from Middle Tennessee.|
That Alabama trio, which includes two walk-ons, has emerged as defensive stars for the Crimson Tide this season. They are the top three Alabama tacklers leading up to the Independence Bowl Dec. 30 against Colorado.
Gilberry, a defensive end, and Johnson, a free safety, were first-team All-Southeastern Conference picks. Mustin and Johnson were voted captains by their teammates following the regular season.
``It seems like just yesterday that nobody really knew who I was,'' said Gilberry, who had nine sacks and led the league with 22 tackles for loss. ``Now I've gotten first-team All-SEC, I feel like I've done almost everything in my power to leave a good legacy behind.''
Not bad for a guy who was discovered by then-Tide coach Mike Shula at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic following his senior year in high school.
Gilberry, who had two sacks in that game, only received scholarships offers from small colleges. He turned in his ``three-minute notice'' at the restaurant where he worked when he got a late invitation to play in the all-star game.
``I was hoping to be a manager at IHOP,'' Gilberry said. ``I was a server for three months. I was working my way up the ladder. I had to quit. They thought I was joking. They wouldn't let me off.''
Now Gilberry has been invited to the Senior Bowl on Jan. 26 in Mobile in an audition for NFL teams. Like that other all-star game, it's held in Ladd-Peebles Stadium not far from his hometown of Bay Minette.
The Senior Bowl? Seriously?
``If you'd have asked me that question four years ago, I'd have thought you were crazy,'' Gilberry said. ``But it's always been a dream. For me to be able to finish it back home, I can't ask for anything else.''
Johnson is satisfied with how things are turning out, too. The player who once labored as a scout-team running back for the Tide finished in a three-way tie for the SEC lead with six interceptions this season.
And he turned into an All-SEC performer.
``It's a crazy story,'' said Johnson, who is from tiny Sulligent, about an hour from Tuscaloosa. ``When I came in it was just coming in to try and play, get on the field and do what I could. Once I got on the field, I wanted bigger goals and this is one that I achieved a little earlier than I thought I would.''
Johnson, Mustin and center Antoine Caldwell were selected co-captains. For Mustin, that came as a surprise for a guy who had only eight tackles as a junior.
``I was just shocked. I'm still shocked,'' said Mustin, a linebacker from Brentwood, Tenn., who had 72 tackles this season. ``It hasn't really settled in. I just thank God that happened. It's a blessing. I think my dad was proud of me. I think my family was proud of that. It's something you can show your kids. I'm still shocked.''
Gilberry believes the success of the trio proves recruiting services and ratings aren't always the final word on talent.
``You get a five-star (recruit) in here and he looks pretty, and once the heat turns up, those stars start to disappear,'' Gilberry said. ``Then you get guys like myself who are a diamond in the rough, who turn out to be a pretty good player.
``You can measure talent, you can measure speed, you can measure agility and quickness and all that. It's a big factor, but you can't measure heart. To me, that's really what it all boils down to.''
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