ORLANDO _ When University of Alabama running back Mark Ingram chose Alabama over Michigan State and Iowa just before the 2008 National Signing Day, some local fans were pretty upset that he didn't stay close to home.
"At first there was, when I first committed to Alabama, there were a lot of people in Michigan who were bitter about it," he said. "A lot of them have come along and are happy for me."
Although Flint native grew up roughly a 40-minute drive from East Lansing, he now has a stretch of highway in the state named after him following last year's Heisman Trophy victory. However, some of the athletes he competed against in high school are now on the Spartans.
"I know Jerel Worthy, I ran track and played against Trent Robinson and Johnny Adams, the corner, he was on the visit with us too," he said. "I don't know a lot of them personally, but I remember a lot of them from hanging out on visits and stuff."
Ingram made it home for two days last week to enjoy the holiday with his family, and heard from both Michigan and Michigan State fans before heading to Orlando.
"Everyone's real excited," Ingram said. "Either they're saying don't beat up on Michigan State too bad or beat them bad."
Special teams getting younger
One area where Alabama has already started rotating in some younger players is special teams. For example, senior Preston Dial said that junior tight end Chris Underwood taking his place on kick returns had nothing to do with an injury.
"Coach (Bobby) Williams is real big on getting young guys involved and having some veterans show them how to do it," Dial said. "I don't know what his plan is but I'm ready in case he wants me too."
Dial had a shoulder injury this season and his right thigh continues to be wrapped for practice. Unlike many of his teammates he's no longer feeling the benefits of the break following the end of the regular season.
"Last year I had a big one at the beginning of the season that nagged me all season," Dial said. "This year it's just been some nicks and bruises, a strain here a pull there, but I've been able to recover from them. I'm a little banged up but I'm excited. You can't let the pain get in the way of your last one."
SEC vs. Big Ten
Both Ingram and sophomore guard Barrett Jones are rooting for SEC teams during the bowls.
"Yeah ... and no," Ingram said.
Actually there are a couple of exceptions, which neither named but seem pretty obvious. Nevertheless, conference pride has become a bit of an issue even though the Alabama players aren't buying into the age-old reputations the SEC vs. Big Ten is size vs. speed.
"I don't think the stigmas are true," Jones said. "I don't think necessarily that Michigan State is slow."
But when asked about the difference, Ingram said that the Big Ten is known for "big strong guys, play physical," while the SEC is loaded from top to bottom: "It's a grind, week in and week out. You can't take any team for granted because everyone's coming with something."
Overall, Alabama is 4-3 against Big Ten teams in bowls, yet Big Ten teams have won five of the last six Capital One bowls.
"I don't buy into them," Dial said about reputations. "A lot of people's mentality about us right now is that we can't finish a ball game. I don't believe that's true."
Jones (high ankle sprain) is back doing everything in practice, but will still have some pain for another month or two after originally sustaining the injury against Mississippi State. "I had my foot planted and it got rolled up right on the side of it."
Ingram on where senior quarterback Greg McElroy might end up in 10 years: "I don't know, but he'll be real successful. He's real smart. Whether he chooses to play football or do something else I'm sure he'll be just fine."
When they were freshman McElroy told Dial he'd rather be an Academic All-American than just a football All-American. "That's really different," Dial said. "He got what he set out for. I was so proud of him."
With this being the busiest week of the year for Orlando's amusement parks, McElroy may have been the only one at Disney World who didn't mind waiting in line with teammates at Space Mountain. He was with a group of 20 players "everyone from a walk-on to the Heisman Trophy winner" on Monday night. "It's been bittersweet," he said. "I am just trying to savor every last moment with my teammates and spend as much time with them as I can, whether that is at the players' lounge or walking around Disney World. Things like that is what I will miss."
As the temperature started to rise Tuesday the high winds of the previous days have finally eased. Alabama will again practice at Dr. Phillips High School on Wednesday morning and have a team excursion that evening to Disney World.