Sumrall ready for Alabama homecoming

September 10, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - As soon as he saw Kentucky's 2003 schedule, Jon Sumrall knew one game was going to be extra special for him.

That game is Saturday when the Wildcats play Alabama in Tuscaloosa, which is only a short drive from his hometown of Huntsville, Ala.

"I remember looking when the schedule came out and seeing the date September 13," said Sumrall. "I've known that date for a long time because it will be sort of a homecoming for me.

"Almost everybody I know has called. I had people call me before the season started that go to school all over the country who are coming to see me play. Kids that I know who go to Ole Miss, and even Auburn, are coming to watch me play Alabama. It's going to be an interesting experience and a really neat deal for me."


Sumrall committed to Kentucky when Hal Mumme was the head coach. Before he signed, Mumme left and Guy Morriss took over. Sumrall was recruited as a defensive back, but his added weight and strength enabled him to move to linebacker and earn a starting spot in this season's opening game against Louisville.

He may or may not start against Alabama, but he will play and that makes the game special enough for him.

"There will be a big, noisy crowd. I know a lot of guys that play at Alabama, too," Sumrall said. "I played against them in high school. I have beaten plenty of those guys before. A lot of people will let the name Alabama get inside their head. They are not special. I don't want anybody on our team caught up in their tradition. We need to respect that tradition, but not fear it."

Memories of the 1997 game

Sumrall grew up a Southeastern Conference football fan, but not necessarily an Alabama or Auburn fan. If he had been an Auburn fan, he might not have the memories he does of UK's 40-34 overtime win over the Crimson Tide at Commonwealth Stadium in 1997.

Sumrall's brother worked in the Alabama athletics department that year. That enabled Sumrall to meet and get to know running back Shaun Alexander, the Boone County product who left the Bluegrass to become a terrific SEC and eventually NFL player.

"I remember the game was the same night as my freshman year homecoming dance," Sumrall said. "That's the night my date just about never talked to me again because of what I did."

And what did he do?

"I sat in the car listening to the game on the radio until it was over," Sumrall proudly said. "I sat outside to 10 o'clock. I didn't care if it was homecoming. I wasn't going to the dance until the game was over. The game was too exciting so I just sat in my mom's Buick LeSabre listening to the radio until the game ended."

Saturday's game will again be on the radio, but it will also be shown nationally on ESPN. Most who watch probably will be expecting Alabama not only to win, but to win big based on the way each team has played this year.

Kentucky fans might have hoped that NCAA sanctions and coaching changes would disrupt the Tide even more than those things did UK, but Alabama has played far better than UK so far this season.

Just don't tell Sumrall that.

"I know we can go in there and win," Sumrall said. "There's no doubt in my mind. You see upsets every Saturday.

"They are not ahead of us in any manner. I think we can play with them and I think we can beat them. They are good. We just can't waltz in and expect to win, but if we go in and play the way I know we can, not only can we win but we will win."

Which would make for an even more memorable night than the one he had six years ago in his mother's car instead of at his homecoming dance.

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