Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara will likely tell you Saturday’s game at Alabama is just like any other, but it isn’t. Kamara, a former four-star prospect, signed with the Tide as a freshman and was forced to redshirt after a falling behind fellow 2013 signees and having served multiple suspensions.
Kamara opted to transfer to Hutchinson Community College in January 2014 before signing with Tennessee last December. He’s excelled as the Vols’ No. 2 running back with 255 yards and three touchdowns on 45 carries, as well as a receiving threat with 108 yards and two scores on 15 catches.
Saturday’s game will be Kamara’s first shot at redemption against his former team. Although he may not say it himself, his teammates are sure the matchup will be huge for the redshirt sophomore.
“He’s definitely motivated every week. He always brings it every week,” safety Brian Randolph told GoVols247. “But you can already see it in him, that he’s ready to come off this game, and I’m expecting big things from him.”
Head coach Butch Jones also acknowledged that although his running back has a competitive mentality, he holds no ill will toward his former team.
“Alvin’s as competitive of a young man as we have in our football program,” Jones said. “I know, when he does talk about his time at Alabama, he talks about the respect that he has for that football program. He still has a number of friends on that football team, but, really, we don’t talk about it a lot.”
Sure, this is “just another game.” Only it isn’t, not for Kamara and not for the Vols.
Kamara told the Knoxville News Sentinel that he was “older” and “more wise” in an interview published in January and looked forward to starting the season with a “clean slate,” obviously looking to redeem his forgotten season in Tuscaloosa. So far, the running back has shown maturity and poise through his redemption season by accepting different roles in Tennessee’s offense.
Kamara’s two receiving touchdowns helped lead the Vols to a 38-31 win against Georgia and improve their record to 3-3. Tennessee now has momentum coming off a bye week as it prepares to face its toughest opponent yet.
Both Kamara and Hurd will need to play a crucial role in their team’s offensive success. Tennessee is averaging 222.0 rushing yards per game — second behind LSU (well, Leonard Fournette) among SEC teams.
But the Vols will have their hands full against one of the nation’s best front sevens. Alabama enters as the SEC’s top rushing and ranks ranks No. 3 nationally.
Both running backs will have the difficult task of matching up against A’Shawn Robinson — assumed by many as the top run-stopping defensive tackle prospect in the upcoming NFL Draft — behind an inconsistent offensive line. Recent history also suggests that the Vols are in for a long Saturday.
Tennessee hasn’t won against Alabama since 2006, one year prior to Nick Saban’s hire. It also doesn’t help that the Tide has looked outstanding since its loss to Ole Miss and is 16-2 in regular season games following its first defeat since 2011.
But strange things have happened for Tennessee all season. If anything, the Vols’ upset against Georgia proved they play best when their backs are against the wall.
It sounds ludicrous, but Tennessee seems to be the only team in a better position to win facing adversity than holding a double-digit lead. Or perhaps the Vols just play up to their competition, as proven by their 12-point margin of defeat in three losses — two coming against ranked opponents.
Either way, Kamara will likely play a crucial factor in Tennessee’s running game in a matchup that should keep him motivated regardless, but adds the redemption factor after a disappointing freshman season.