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January 4, 2012NEW ORLEANS | In a town filled with its share of distractions, University of Alabama players are in a position of responsibility in New Orleans this week not to have too much fun on their own time.
And when the team arrived Wednesday, linebacker Dont'a Hightower made it clear that any player who loses sight of that will answer not only to coach Nick Saban, but to Hightower himself as well.
Alabama (11-1) faces LSU (13-0) Monday for the BCS National Championship, and Crimson Tide players have likened their stay to more of a business trip than a vacation. Hightower is one of three permanent captains on the team, and is more than ready to exercise his leadership role. He is also a member of the team's leadership committee, a collection of players who are responsible to maintain order within the team.
Hightower said the team's initial evening curfew was set between midnight and 1 a.m.
"The leadership group, we kind of set curfew up so before and after practice," Hightower said. "When guys want to go out and go to the mall or go shopping or whatever, they can go and do that, but if you're not in, even if you're a minute late for curfew, you're going home."
Players have a series of events to attend as a group in the days before the game, including a hospital visit, but will have more time on their own in the evenings. Saban said he has complete trust in the players to maintain their focus.
"I think everybody's got to make a choice and decision about the consequences of the things they do. I think rest, hydrating yourself properly ... you can still enjoy yourself and make good choices about what you do and what you don't do," Saban said.
Alabama safety Mark Barron, also a permanent team captain, is known to approach games with a more business-like demeanor as a matter of routine. And not even the New Orleans night life is bright enough to change that.
"We want to have fun, but that's not really our mission or why we want to come down here. We're here to play a game," Barron said. "There's going to be some things for us to do, but I feel like our main focus is this game."
Added Saban: "Everybody has a responsibility to each other on our team to make sure they're preparing themselves physically, emotionally and mentally, to play what probably needs to be our best football game of the year. I expect and trust that our players will do exactly that."
Barron says ribs OK
Sore ribs kept Mark Barron from playing for much of Alabama's 42-14 win over Auburn. But the senior issued himself a clean bill of health Wednesday.
"They're fine," Barron said. "They were bothering me a lot, but they really haven't bothered me at all lately. I'm good with everything."
Barron was limited in individual drills during Alabama's on-campus bowl practices in December. The senior did not say whether he would participate fully in the practices in New Orleans, but was clear that his playing status is not at issue.
Saban indicated that the game plan against the Tigers is almost fully in place, and that practices in New Orleans will be more about the details.
"We've installed most of what we're going to do," Saban said. " I think now we're trying to refine the execution of it and continue to develop confidence in it, that if everybody does their job, that will give us the best chance to be successful."
The Crimson Tide will conduct afternoon three practices over the next three days before a walk-through at the SuperDome on Sunday.
"A lot of guys know how to go about things (in a national championship setting). We're going to step up as leaders on the team." - Hightower on Alabama's experience on a national championship stage.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196.