Cornerback fights to bring Tide secondary respect
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If he had wanted glamour, he would have chosen to be a wide receiver. Or a tailback. Anything but a defensive back.
But, for better or worse, Charlie Peprah is stuck at cornerback, where in only his sophomore season he's being counted on for veteran leadership in one of Alabama's traditionally nerve-wracking areas -- the secondary.
"If someone blows a coverage or something in front of us, we're the secondary line of defense," said Peprah. "We're the last people to be around the ball before a touchdown. So we always get the blame no matter what happens."
Peprah's not really complaining, since he's griping with a big grin on his face. A coaches' favorite because of his upbeat attitude, Peprah is not a typical football player.
His grandfather was an African dictator during the turbulent 1970s and was executed by firing squad at the end of his rule. His family settled in Texas, where Peprah was one of a group of Lone Star state kids lured to Alabama by former coach Dennis Franchione. Known around the team as a whiz, Peprah hopes to leave Alabama with a master's degree.
"He's the only corner I've ever coached who's really, really worried about graduating early so he can go on and get his master's degree," secondary coach Chris Ball said. "He's very intelligent, a great person and we're expecting great things from him in the future."
The Tide is counting on great things from Peprah this year, after he started eight games as a redshirt freshman in 2002. The other corner, junior Anthony Madison, has no significant starting experience.
At safety, senior Charles Jones emerged as a star in 2002 and returns as a starter. Sophomore Roman Harper will man the other safety position.
It's hardly an inexperienced group, but it's failed to attract much attention. Fairly or unfairly, some believe that Alabama's defense dominated in 2002 in spite of the secondary.
"When I came here all I heard about was how bad the secondary was," Ball said. "I don't see that. I don't think the media picked any one of our guys to be first-, second- or third-team all-conference. We're out to prove you wrong."
Lack of respect is nothing new for defensive backs, Peprah says. He didn't play during the disastrous 2001 season, when the defense allowed record passing gains, but he still remembers the fans' impatience during the largely successful 2002 campaign.
"They don't recognize the good plays. Only the bad plays are noticed," Peprah said. "When you do a good job as a DB, they don't throw your way and fans don't see that. But if you mess up, that's when they throw your way and get a big catch and that's all fans see."
Fans have seen plenty of Peprah because he always seems to be in front of a TV camera or a reporter's notebook. He's a reliably good quote, and he's got some interesting stories to tell.
One of those stories is about his grandfather. Peprah doesn't volunteer information, but he never shies away from talking about Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, the leader of Ghana from 1972-1978. Thanks to a blurb in the media guide, it's a story he's now told dozens of times.
Amid a slumping economy and dissatisfaction with the Ghana government, Acheampong led a bloodless military coup and assumed the presidency as leader of the National Redemption Council. He would govern over what would become known as the Second Republic in Ghana.
Acheampong gained popular support by nationalizing many large private companies. He also encouraged Ghanaians to become self-reliant and practice small farming. However, Acheampong was criticized for stifling the press and cracking down on university students, who wanted a return to democratic government.
Acheampong was forced to step down by his allies in 1978, and a group of young army officers overthrew the government and executed Acheampong a year later. Peprah was born four years later. He's visited Ghana and says he always feels very at home there.
At Alabama, he's resisted the temptations to transfer to other schools during multiple coaching changes, and he feels rooted to the secondary.
"You've got to work that much harder as a DB to get the glory," he said. "With the secondary, and more specifically the corner, you've got to have a short-term memory. You can have a good and bad game at the same time."
And when does the attention come?
Peprah laughed, "Once you get that interception."