FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Deion Belue’s journey to play at Alabama began at Deshler High School and then took a detour through Booneville, Miss., before he finally arrived in Tuscaloosa.
Tonight, he’ll be trying to win his first national championship ring with the Crimson Tide as Alabama faces Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game.
A few of his teammates from the Shoals will be trying to add to their growing collection. Walk-on offensive lineman Aaron Joiner, who played at Florence, hopes to add a third ring to his stash. Walk-on wide receiver Nathan McAlister has one ring, the same number as his former Russellville teammate Brent Calloway.
Joiner likely won’t play tonight. McAlister might get in if the game gets out of hand. Calloway will play mostly on special teams, while Belue should get plenty of action from his cornerback position.
The four players with local ties agree that being a part of playing for a national championship is a dream-come-true.
“I’ve been trying to enjoy every moment; this is a once in a lifetime thing,” Belue said. “There are thousands of athletes out there that work to play for a national championship, and in my first year I get to come here and try to get it done is awesome.”
Belue, who spent two seasons at Northeast Mississippi Community College, quickly moved up the depth chart. By the end of spring camp, it was apparent he would be in the starting lineup. He’s recorded 36 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, and has two interceptions and one fumble recovery.
“To finally get to Alabama, all the work I put in had finally paid off and I got to be where I wanted to be,” Belue said. “It’s a huge difference from junior college. When they said I had the starting position, it was great.”
Belue often has been targeted in the opposition’s passing game and he’s given up his share of completions. But fellow defensive back HaHa Clinton-Dix said Belue has held his own this season.
“He’s a smart kid,” Clinton-Dix said. “From the time he came in until now, he has grown a lot. He contributes a lot and he does his job. To come in and learn coach Saban’s system, pick it up very well and go out and play and leave everything on the field, I’m very proud of him.”
Calloway got his first national championship ring during a 2011 redshirt season. Now that he’s seeing game action on special teams and as the H-back, Calloway said he is more into the game.
“I’m happy with the way I have developed,” he said. “The coaches put me in a position to learn what I have to do to get on the field. Patience is a virtue. In college football, you have to wait your turn. You have to develop before you can do anything else.”
Calloway has played in 12 of 13 games, missing the Florida Atlantic game. He has eight tackles on special teams and has rushed 10 times for 63 yards.
McAlister has seen action in eight games this season and is not listed in the media guide as having recorded a tackle or caught a pass. Joiner is not listed in the participation chart this season, but that doesn’t mean the senior hasn’t enjoyed the ride as a walk-on.
“It’s more like a dream than anything,” he said. “Being a walk-on, coming out of high school where we didn’t even make the playoffs my senior season and then a few months later playing in the national championship game. Two years later we were playing in another one, and then the next year playing in another one. It’s surreal. It’s been fun getting to know the guys. Even though we have done so much with the championships, it’s even better getting to know these guys and the friendships.”
Joiner has no regrets for deciding to walk on at Alabama over perhaps going elsewhere and getting substantial playing time.
“Who knows, maybe I would have gotten to play a lot more somewhere else, but I wouldn’t trade this for anything,” Joiner said.
Contact Gregg Dewalt at 256-740-5748 or email@example.com. Follow @greggdewalt on Twitter.