TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - He bolted from the sideline like a bull out of a rodeo gate.
After 10 yards of a dead sprint, he slowed and started skipping, throwing his hands up in the air and playfully wagging them from side to side as the roar from 85,000 fans moved toward deafening.
As he took his place on the left side of the defensive line, preparing for the afternoon's first play against South Carolina, Alabama's Rudy Griffin smiled.
This was why the Hephzibah native came here. This was validation for those months of toil and torture on the practice field and in the weight room, vindication for all those along the way who said it could never be done.
Somewhere in the sea of crimson, there were other similar smiles - from his parents and his sister.
This was why they drive five hours on Interstate 20 most weekends to see him play.
Before each game at Bryant-Denny Stadium, a short movie is displayed on the video board. The punch line to the film is, "This is Alabama football."
Well, this is Alabama football for the Griffins.
Griffin was a nobody when he arrived in Tuscaloosa a year ago, just another walk-on with big dreams. His heart proved to be his greatest asset as his work ethic in practice was noticed by coach Mike Shula and defensive coordinator Joe Kines.
They rewarded Griffin, who transferred from The Citadel, with a scholarship after spring practice.
He earned a starting spot by the Sept. 4 season opener against Utah State, taking over for Anthony Bryant, an all-conference selection last year.
That day was the culmination of Griffin's efforts.
"It was more than I thought it'd be," Griffin said. "I'd imagined for so long how it'd feel. My dreams didn't even measure up to how it actually was for me."
He said starting for the first time at Alabama was like that feeling before you hit your first drop on a roller coaster.
"You know how your stomach feels, like it just drops?" Griffin said. "That's what it's like. That little knot hits the bottom of your stomach."
He said that feeling hasn't subsided yet.
"I don't think it will," he said. "Maybe next year."
His mother Anita said watching her son is like stepping into a time machine.
"I don't see him as a 21-year-old," she said. "I still see him as that little baby boy I took home from the hospital."
The 6-foot, 290-pounder has six tackles in his five starts this year for the Crimson Tide (3-2).
Griffin recovered a fumble late in the game against South Carolina, which won 20-3.
He picked the ball up on the 4 and rumbled out to the 28. He said the run reminded him of playing fullback at Hephzibah.
Griffin has long been inspired by the story of another Rudy, Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger.
Ruettiger walked on to the Notre Dame football team and played in his final game, recording a sack against Georgia Tech.
He is the only player to have ever been carried off the field at Notre Dame.
His story was turned into a movie in 1993, and it has become a favorite of Griffin's.
He said he watches a part of it each night before he goes to bed. He's even seen the movie three times in one day.
"He plays it all the time," his mother said. "He knows just about every word in it by heart."
Just before the start of the season, Griffin spoke with Ruettiger, who became intrigued by the similarities in their stories.
After speaking with Ruettiger, Griffin said he "felt like one of the girls at a Michael Jackson concert. I wanted to scream and cry at the same time."
Griffin and Ruettiger exchanged e-mail addresses, and they've kept in contact.
Griffin said he e-mailed Ruettiger last week with Alabama's schedule. Ruettiger said he'd try to make it to see Griffin play.
"That was one of my dreams, actually getting a chance to talk to him," Griffin said. "Knowing that I'm keeping in touch with him, that's crazy."
Anita said their encounter meant a lot to her also.
"Oh, it was just spectacular," she said. "I thought it was so special for Mr. Ruettiger to take the time to call him. It makes the movie mean more to me, and to him, too."
It seems like Rudy's tale is living on through Rudy.
Reach Travis Haney at (706) 823-3304 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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