Where Alabama finds the motivation 22 weeks before it counts

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Nick Saban talks a lot about the battle with human nature when motivating his Alabama football teams.

Default mode is comfort. It’s easier to be average than great.

Coming off a national title, that war with complacency is heightened in the Crimson Tide football complex. That’s where you’ll find Saban’s 12th Alabama team a third of the way through the spring practice routine.

Of the 15 workouts, three are scrimmages including the A-Day game. Still, waking up Friday morning, Alabama will be 155 days away from the season opener with Louisville in Orlando.

So, the question for veteran players was this: Is it ever difficult to get all the way up for spring practice? Maybe it sounds obvious but consider how many times athletes after big games say their heads weren’t in it. If that’s true for actual competition, it’s not unthinkable for that to creep into the psyche 22 Saturdays before the first game.

Senior tight end Hale Hentges carefully explained why it’s not so difficult to care in late March.

“That’s something you have to keep in mind that the light at end of the tunnel is extremely far away,” he said. “That’s something I think that value and idea gets instilled to us back in Fourth Quarter (conditioning), back in winter workouts that really comes from Coach (Scott) Cochran and Coach Saban, that idea that we’re so far away from our games and what not but the national championships and SEC championships are won now in the winter and spring football. So, it’s something that they do a really good job of telling us that the reason we’re working is for the ultimate goal. That’s just positive reinforcement.”

Plus, as Hentges explained, spring football is still a new concept to him. They don’t have it where he grew up in Missouri.

So,” he said in his third spring at Alabama, “this is actually still fairly new to me.”

Isaiah Buggs is five practices into his second full spring cycle at Alabama after transferring from junior college.

Motivation isn’t an issue for one of the big personalities who plays defensive line.

“No because we are setting our identity right here,” Buggs said. “We have to come with it every day. You can’t count the days, you just have to grind it out.”

Along with Raekwon Davis, Buggs figures to be one of the alphas on a defense again replacing key voices like Rashaan Evans, Da’Ron Payne and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

On the offensive side, left tackle Jonah Williams is a respected figure now in his third spring practice at Alabama.

He takes a practical approach to all this.

“For me, I get motivated by watching the film the night before, or after that practice,” he said, “because like I said, I’m my harshest critic. I might have a great play, but I’m like, ‘Man, my left hand was outside. I need to get that inside.’

“So, I’ll get excited the next day about how on this play, I’m going to get both my hands inside. And it’s really minute, just little details that I delve into. But for me, that keeps me motivated because there’s so many small things to get better at. I don’t play because of anger against other teams, I play because I want to be the best I can be. So that’s kind of where I draw my motivation from for spring.”

Alabama players get the weekend off for the Easter holiday before beginning prep for the first scrimmage of spring next Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Michael Casagrande is an Alabama beat writer for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande.

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