In September 2002, my father took me to my first Alabama football game. Growing up in North East Texas, it was often hard to make the pilgrimage to Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Bryant Denny Stadium; therefore, we had to settle for the less suitable away game in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
As a young boy, the sport of football was still quite foreign to me; however, I will never be able to forget the first play of the game. With Alabama on their 20-yard line just nine seconds in after kick-off, back up quarterback Brodie Croyle [replacing the injured Tyler Watts] handed the ball of to the new transfer player from Texas Tech University, running-back Shaud Williams.
The 5-8, 189 pound athlete, a size quite unusual for the South Eastern Conference, went right through the Razorback’s defensive line and 80 yards down the field to put Alabama immediately on the scoreboard. Shaud would finish the game with 119 rushing yards and 207 all-purpose yard, as the Crimson Tide easily cruised past the Razorbacks 30-12.
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After my first Alabama game, I was hooked. I was obsessed with the Crimson jerseys and the elephant logo, and equally obsessed with the Alabama running back from Texas.
Alabama fans have been spoiled with elite caliber running backs over the past decade. We have seen the likes of Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram, and Heisman finalist Trent Richardson, pro bowler Ed Lacy, recent second round pick T.J. Yeldon, and even the current Tide stars like Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake.
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But who we cannot forget are the stars that took the field before the God-like individual Nick Saban took the rank as head coach of the Crimson Tide. Maybe we do try to place the Shula-era at the back of our minds, with the disappointing 4-8, 6-7 and such seasons. However, there were many great athletes on the Shula teams that often slip our mind, such as Shaud Williams.
Shaud Williams grew up in Andrews, Texas, a small town way out in the panhandle of the Lone-Star State. He graduated from Andrews High School in 1998, but before that he accumulated quite the athletic resumé. Shaud was a four-sport letterman in high school, playing football, basketball, baseball and track.
In Shaud’s senior year, he ran for a total of 2,121 yard and scored 27 touchdowns. He rushed for over 2,000 yards in three consecutive seasons at Andrews High School for a total of 7,710 career yards, which at the time was the second best total in the history of the 4A high school classification in Texas football.
He also scored a total of 87 touchdowns during his high school career. Also in high school, Shaud was the starting short stop on the state championship winning team at Andrews High School.
Coming out of high school, Shaud chose to play for Spyke Dykes at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas. Lubbock was close to home for Shaud, and that made it an easy decision for him to become a Red Raider. During his freshman football campaign at Texas Tech, he earned significant playing time, and brought home the award for Big 12 Freshman of the Year.
He ran for a total of 658 yards and seven touchdowns, and he also broke the freshman rushing record for the most yards in the game, rushing for 230 against Colorado.
“After my freshman year, there was a coaching change. I was going to have to change positions. They had me switching between slot receiver and running back and at the time were throwing the ball 60 times a game. The writing was on the wall for me,” said Shaud.
When Shaud was coming out of high school, Coach Dennis Franchione who was the head coach of TCU at the time was recruiting him pretty heavily. When Shaud was looking to transfer, Franchione happened to land the job at Alabama.
“Ironically, they were recruiting my high school coaches son to go to Alabama. The guy who was recruiting me Coach Tommerdahl, he had already formed a relationship with Coach Lebby, my high school coach.
When he called my high school coach regarding his son, my high school coach told him ‘Shaud is looking to transfer’ and Coach Tommerdahl said ‘Tell Shaud he has a scholarship here if he wants to come here.’ The next thing I know, I ended up at the Capstone.”
Shaud had to sit out his first year at Alabama (2001) due the NCAA transfer policy. Alabama went 7-5 during the year that Shaud had to sit out, but they won the Independence Bowl against the Iowa State Cyclones.
However, going into the spring practice before Shaud’s first year of eligblity, the NCAA placed sanctions on Alabama’s football program. The sanctions were for violations committed by the Crimson Tide’s previous coach, Mike Dubose. During the 2002 and 2003 seasons, Alabama would not be allowed to play in either the SEC Championship or bowl games.
Following the sanctions, all juniors and seniors had the option to transfer elsewhere in which they would receive automatic eligibility and playing time. However, Shaud did not consider transferring.
“That option was on the table for me, but I never considered it. Our motto was hold the rope, that was our battle cry for that year. I just did not think it would be right for me just to leave those guys because we were not going to get to go to a bowl game.”
In the 2002 season, Shaud would rush for 921 yards and accumulating a total of 1149 yards of total offense. The Crimson Tide would finish that season 10-3, losing only to #2 ranked Oklahoma, #7 Georgia and rivals Auburn.
The winning record earned by the Franchione led team would be the best record for an Alabama squad for the next six years. One of the most impressive wins of that season, would be the night game played on November 16th in Baton Rouge, Louisiana against the #14 ranked LSU Tigers. Shaud would rush for a total of 131 yards that night, stomping the Nick Saban led team 31-0.
Following the impressive season, Coach Franchione announced he would stepping down as head coach of Alabama in order to replace the recently dismissed R.C. Slocum at Texas A&M University.
Over the next few months, a coaching hunt [and debacle] would take place in Tuscaloosa. Following the sudden leave of Franchione, Alabama hired former Washington State coach Mike Price. It appeared to be a quality appointment by the Alabama athletic department at the time. Price would only coach the Tide throughout the spring practice, until his sudden dismissal as head coach for an incident that took place in Florida at a strip club and $1,000 tab charged to his room by an unknown guest.
The Alabama football program was now in somewhat of a coaching crisis. They had gone through three coaches in a span of three years, and the season was only three months away. In May of 2003, Mike Shula, previously a star quarterback for the Tide in the 80s, was named the next coach of the hurting program.
“I have so much respect for Coach Shula, just for the fact of the situation, it was not an ideal situation. We did not have a spring with him; when we started two-a-days, that was our first time on the field with Coach Shula. Any other coach says no to that deal. He manned up and he came into it, and it was tough.
"We went 4-9 that year, lost a five overtime game to Tennessee, lost a triple over time game to Arkansas, and Coach Shula knew what he was coming into and still stepped up to the plate in the attempt to turn that program around, ” said Shaud on Coach Shula.
Regardless of the next season being a disappointed on terms of the record, Shaud would have an impressive season in terms of his individual statistics. He would lead the SEC with 1,367 rushing yards and 1,528 all-purpose yards. His total number of rushing yards that year ranks him #6 all time on the amount of yards gained in a single season. During the 2003 campaign, Shaud ran for over 150 yards in three games.
He would finish his collegiate career away against the Hawai’i Warriors, in which he ran for a total of 105 yards. The Crimson Tide fell short once again, losing 29-37. However, before the game Shaud was named co-captain of the 2003 Alabama football team, in which permanently engraved his name below Denny-Chimes with the other Alabama greats and captains.
Following Shaud’s college career at Texas Tech and Alabama, the Buffalo Bills signed him as an undrafted free agent. Shaud would play in the NFL for three years, rushing for a total 330 yards and two touchdowns. Between 2009 and 2011, Shaud would also play for two UFL football teams, the Florida Tuskers and the Omaha Nighthawks. Shaud has had to move away from the sport of football in terms of playing, but he is now a strength and conditioning coach for his high school, Andrews High.
However, Shaud is still obsessed with his beloved University of Alabama. The football program in Tuscaloosa is drastically different than the teams in which the passionate Crimson Tide fans were accustomed to in the early to mid 2000s. Shaud was pretty surprised to the coaching job given to his prior rival who had constantly stood on the opposite side of the field throughout both his college and NFL career.
“When I was in Buffalo, he [Nick Saban] was in Miami, and Buffalo-Miami is a huge rivalry. Obviously, he went to coach the Dolphins after LSU, and here he is again, the enemy coach is on the other side once again. And then when they hired him at Alabama, I was taken back at first, ‘Woah, these guys hired the enemy.’
But he has turned the program around. I think what Saban has done for the U of A is unbelievable and I hope he stays there forever,” said Shaud.
Shaud Williams’ playing days at The University of Alabama might be over, but the passion and desire for the Tide to win still burns within him. Not only does he watch every game with the same crave for victory in which was instilled within him as a play, but he has the mystic motto “Roll Tide” inked permanently on his for arm.
“I cannot tell you how much love I have for the university of Alabama, I am pretty sure I bleed crimson. I got roll tide on my arm, I got Alabama sheets on my bed, I am hardcore ‘Roll Tide’. It really kicked in after I graduated. After I graduated and left, and started seeing the guys who were coming through; I realized how much passion and how much love I have for the University. I am watching every game, jumping out and down and yelling.
"I want to cry when we get beat. Looking back on it now, I use to think man these Alabama fans are crazy. But now I understand the love and the passion these people have for the University of Alabama, because I am the exact same way. Everything is Roll Tide for me now.”
As an Alabama fan, we are spoiled with the amount of glory that has been obtained by football teams within the Saban era. Sometimes, the Shula tenure slips our minds, but Alabama greats such as Shaud Williams and his stellar career within the Crimson Tide uniform should never be forgotten. The running back that was initially told he was too small to play in the SEC, that he would never make it, was the shining star in the time of difficulty for the Alabama program.