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Alabama Crimson Tide draws strength from offseason tragedies

Alabama safety Mark Barron and his teammates have rallied in a tough offseason.

Associated Press

Alabama safety Mark Barron and his teammates have rallied in a tough offseason.

HOOVER, Ala. — The image is ingrained in his mind in a way that has been difficult to shake. And in some ways, Alabama junior running back Trent Richardson doesn't want it to leave him.

It's the image of parents having children snatched from them during the devastating tornadoes that hit Tuscaloosa in April.

"If you think about it, somebody you love being snatched from you, that's hard," Richardson said. "You had parents who were holding onto their kids during the tornado. Most of the people who were missing were kids because parents were holding onto them and the winds were blowing 200 mph. I have two little girls myself, so I can only imagine how they feel. That's a tragic moment."

It has been a difficult offseason for Tide players and coaches and Tuscaloosa.

During the tornadoes, long-snapper Carson Tinker was at his home in the center of the storm when he was thrown about 50 yards from his house. His girlfriend, Ashley Harrison, was killed. Tinker's home was destroyed, and he sustained a concussion and a fractured wrist.

And in May, 21-year-old offensive lineman Aaron Douglas was found dead on the second-floor balcony of an apartment in Fernandina Beach after attending a party. Douglas died of an accidental drug overdose, Duval County's medical examiner said.

"We've had a bit of a challenging offseason with some of the things that have happened in our community, the tragedy of the tornado," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Friday, the final day of SEC Media Days. "But I think the people of the state of Alabama have been stellar in how they reacted to help each other sort of rebuild communities."

For Alabama, the media's preseason favorite to win the SEC and a projected preseason top-five pick nationally, the adversity has unified the team.

"We're taking it in stride," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "I feel like we've gotten a lot closer. We realized that just like football when you're one play away, you never know when it's your time to go. We've been there for Tinker; we know it's hard. We've been there for Aaron's family.

"We're just trying to do what we can, even for the tornado victims. Some of us know people who were affected by that outside of Carson Tinker's girlfriend. So we're just trying to give back to the community and remember each and every day that you're blessed because anybody could be hit by a tornado. Aaron, and the tornado, we're using that as motivation because we don't want to let a teammate go in vain."

The players have spent countless hours visiting families affected by the tornadoes, volunteering to help rebuild the city. Saban donated $50,000 through his charity, Nick's Kids, and celebrities such as Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney also donated through his charity.

Alabama returns 18 starters from its 10-3 team last season. That includes Richardson, who rushed for 700 yards last season while sharing duties with Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. This year, with Ingram gone to the NFL, Richardson steps into the spotlight all on his own.

But recent events, he said, will allow him and the rest of the players to keep things in perspective.

"It's people out there, you've got hundreds of thousands of fans waiting on you to do something," Richardson said. "You've got 32,000 of them coming out of Tuscaloosa. You've got fans out there that have lost everything. You've got to put that in the back of your head, really in the front of your head.

"You're like, these folks are depending on me, so how could you let them down?"

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

Alabama Crimson Tide draws strength from offseason tragedies 07/22/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 22, 2011 9:19pm]
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