FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Alabama’s training room was full of young players ranging from 7 to 14 years old. They were doing as told and working hard. Their diligence would later pay off and be rewarded, just not immediately.
It was an unusual sight for Tosh Lupoi, who joined Alabama in 2014 as an analyst and has since worked his way up to defensive coordinator.
“My first kids’ camp here was one of the first times I really questioned if I belong here,” Lupoi said Wednesday. “I was used to kids’ camp moreso using water balloons and obstacle courses.”
Not at Alabama.
“There was an intense preparation going into the kids’ camp, and there was an intense workload throughout the body of kids’ camp,” Lupoid said. “I quickly learned that we’re going to approach everything here with the same attack, the same respect and the same preparation.”
Regardless of age. Regardless of opponent.
Nothing has changed.
Alabama’s defense is now preparing to face the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense in a College Football Playoff semifinal on Dec. 29 in Miami. Oklahoma has scored 85 touchdowns through 13 games and is averaging 49.5 points per contest. Both marks are significantly higher than what Alabama has allowed this season.
The Crimson Tide has limited opponents to a total of 25 touchdowns and an average of 14.8 points per game. Nationally, it’s the No. 4 scoring defense.
“You can’t just pull out one side of the ball, whether it’s in the secondary or defensive line, and say these guys are better than the rest of the defense,” Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Cale Gundy said. “They’re gifted, they’re talented, and it’s going to be a challenge for us.”
That’s the case for any offense facing Alabama’s defense in the Nick Saban Era.
Alabama finished last season as the top defense in the nation, just like it did in 2016, 2012 and 2011. It was second in 2015 and 2009, third in 2010.
Really, the only time Alabama didn’t have a top 10 defense under Nick Saban was during his first season (2007).
“Shoot,” Lupois said, “I’m just doing my best to operate to the standard.”
For example, UA defensive back Deionte Thompson has personally gone out of his way to practice or watch film during free time just to make sure he’s the best he can possibly be. Even over the summer he could be found at the football complex getting some work in — at midnight.
“It’s something that I think of, I have nightmares of,” Thompson said. “I just don’t want to be outworked. I don’t like being outworked. Just being at Alabama, you’re known for your hard work. I don’t want to take days off.”
That’s the standard Lupoi was talking about and that he originally saw at the kids’ camp. Many young players powered through and returned the next year. Just like Lupoi repeatedly decided to come back.
This is his fifth season with the program and fourth as an assistant.
“For coaches and players at Alabama, it’s not for everybody,” Lupoi said. “But it’s certainly for me.”
Reach Terrin Waack at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.