Waiting for their chance
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
The tradition-laden North Alabama Lions football team has a bit of local flavor this season.
Freshmen Travis Lightle, J.D. Glenn and Justin Youngblood were all key members of the 2004 Hartselle Tigers who have chosen to continue their football careers at the powerhouse in Florence.
Although all three have been redshirted and will not see playing action until next year, they are enjoying their college experience and the chance to be on the same field as some of the most talented players in Division II football.
"It's definitely faster," Glenn said of the difference between college and high school. "Everyone here was the best players on their high school team. The talent gap isn't near as big."
The jump from high school to college has been an adjustment in more ways than one. For Youngblood, who was a star at running back as he rushed for 1,842 yards his senior season for the Tigers, it has been tough getting used to being on a scout team and not playing in the games on Saturdays.
"At first it was hard, but now I've gotten used to it," he said. "Our coaches always tell us that we have to rise to our position. Nobody's given anything here, you have to work for your playing time.
"Right now I've going against the first-string defense in practice, so that will help me to get better."
Glenn had to get used to a different kind of adjustment. At 220 pounds, he was a starting defensive end at Hartselle, but at UNA he was moved to linebacker.
"To play offensive line in college you've got to be around 250 pounds or more, and I've probably peaked at my growing," Glenn said. "I haven't played linebacker since when I was in eighth grade, but it's fun. You definitely get more glory as a linebacker, but you've also got to deal with a lot more responsibility."
Lightle has been practicing with the Lions as center on the scout team, the position that he played in high school and the position where he is expected to stay in his college career. Lightle also saw action at defensive end with Hartselle, but said that he is asked to focus solely on center with UNA.
"We're all on scout team offense," he said. "After this year I'll get four years of eligibility. This redshirt lets us get an extra year of practice and gives us a chance to learn the offense before we play, so it's been helpful."
UNA is the only school in either Division I or Division II football to win three national championships in a row. The Lions accomplished the feat from 1993-95 under head coach Bobby Wallace.
This year's team is led by Mark Hudspeth, who led the team to a 13-1 record last season – losing 29-22 in the Division II quarterfinals to North Dakota. "Coach Hud," as his players call him, has the team off to another good start in 2005 with a 4-1 record.
"I like all our coaches," Youngblood said. "You get to know them pretty quickly because you spend so much time with them. They're somebody you can talk to about things other than football.
"But they also know a lot of the game, especially since most of them played football at some point in their lives."
The Hartselle trio said that practices under Hudspeth and the UNA staff are actually rather similar to the practices they had in high school. The only difference is that the pacing is much faster.
"The practices are definitely a lot faster paced," Glenn said. "You're not simply going from drill to drill, you're expected to spring from drill to drill. Everything's done at a lot faster speed, so you get more things done in the same amount of time (as high school)."
In addition to practices, UNA players have early morning workouts at 6 a.m. and the occasional mandatory team meeting.
Glenn, Lightle and Youngblood said they don't have as many meetings as the players who dress for Saturday games and have the whole weekend free anytime the Lions need to travel for a road game.
"It's not too stressful (keeping a social life)," Youngblood said. "We've got plenty of free time because we're not travelling with the team to away games. We go to the games when we're at home, of course, but when the team's on the road we pretty much have the whole weekend free."