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'20 minutes:' Hentges striving for
that ultimate feeling once again

Dec. 22, 2016

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. --- Those 20 minutes ...

All the hours, days, weeks, months and years of work, just for those 20 minutes, those 1,200 seconds.

The blood, the sweat the tears, the "awful" times ... they were all worth it for Hale Hentges. Just for those 20 minutes.

Those 20 minutes of pure euphoria, pure bliss, heaven on earth. Perfection.

When you hear Hentges talking about it, he sounds like an addict. He's had that highest of highs and he wants it again.

But this drug is legal. This drug is football, national championship football, football covered with confetti.

"All the hard times we go through ... in the summer, we wake up every day at 5:30 to workout and of course, that's an awful, awful experience," said Hentges, a 2015 graduate of Helias and a sophomore tight end at Alabama. "But from that to those 20 minutes you're standing on the field after the national championship game, it's something you can't describe. I don't think anyone can paint an actual picture unless you've been there yourself.

"The study halls, the 12-hour football days, it's all worth it for that confetti falling, it really is.  It makes all your troubles go away, whatever's bothering you in life, whatever hang ups you have ... all of it just totally disappears for those 20 minutes. It's a feeling that will never go away, it was probably the happiest time in my life. You just can't describe it and do it justice."

It almost sound like Hentges was getting goose bumps talking about it. Well ...

"Absolutely," he said. "I want to find that feeling again. It's just something you have to put so much effort and work into, it's nice to see the fruits of your labor come to fruition. You try so hard, you put so much blood, sweat and tears into something, you want it so badly to work out and when it does, it's the best feeling in the world."

HENTGES, OF COURSE, WAS TALKING ABOUT Alabama's national-championship clinching win over Clemson in January, a wildly entertaining 45-40 championship bout that actually surpassed the billing and hype. And ended with that shower of Crimson and White confetti.

"That was probably the most favorite game I've ever played in," Hentges said. "It's something I'll never forget. Everything that went on in that game, it was something special and unique."

The 6-5, 255-pound Hentges was a special and unique talent, indeed, for the Crusaders, as he amassed 169 career receptions for 2,559 yards and 34 touchdowns.

He was a dynamic offensive force then and he still is today --- only now, it's as a dynamic blocker without the superstar stats. This season, he has just three catches for 10 yards; for his career, four catches for 15.

Hardly Fantasy League stuff. 

The transition from being the MAN to what's basically the sixth offensive lineman wouldn't be easy for most. For Hentges, it's a non-issue.

"It really hasn't been tough, just because I love this team and I'm willing to do anything that needs to be done in order for us to win," he said. "People always tell me: 'Ah, man, why aren't you getting the ball? I wish they would have thrown it to you!' It just goes in one ear and out the other. I really want what's best for the team.

"People think I'm just saying that, but I'm really not. It comes with being on a team, especially when you play under coach (Nick) Saban, you learn to understand what makes it so special. If I catch zero passes or 100 passes, I really don't care."

The Crimson Tide, the No. 1 seed in  the upcoming four-team College Football Playoffs, is a team overflowing with talent. But that's only a part of what makes them so good.

"There's such competitive nature and spirit in practice," Hentges said. "Obviously, we have a lot of talent, everyone knows how to play football and they're all very good. But in every single practice, it feels like it's a game, a live setting. There's not one time where you think you don't have to go hard on a rep because it doesn't matter; every single rep matters, even in practice.

"You're always fighting for playing time, you're always fighting to keep the next wave of recruits off your heels. There's just no room for not performing up to your highest standards."

Like every player who goes to Alabama, Hentges has gotten bigger, stronger and faster since he arrived. But his experience goes far beyond that.

"My understanding and love for the game have gotten a lot stronger," he said. "You can talk about getting bigger, stronger, faster, everybody's doing that --- we do so  many workouts, we live in the weight room --- but I have so much more appreciation for the game. I'm realizing how much I really love football, and that's  propelled me towards wanting to be the best so I can hopefully get a chance to play in the NFL some day."

It starts at the top with Saban. Call it trickle down football economics.

"Amazing, that's the first word that comes to mind when I think about him," Hentges said of the 65 year-old head coach. "From the leadership aspect to being a man to any realm, he's the best. He's never settling for second place, he's not okay with mediocrity ... that's something he instills in us every day.

"That insatiable craving for dominance, that's what makes him so good."

ALABAMA HAS CERTAINLY BEEN DOMINANT this year, again, brushing aside opponents like they were nothing more than a collection of outmatch high school teams --- a combined 527-153 in its 13 games.

Only twice this season has the Crimson Tide been tested, and in one of those the other team didn't score --- and LSU would still be trying to score if the game were still going on.

Alabama 10, LSU 0.

The other was a serious test, to be sure, when Alabama was belted into a stunning 24-3 hole before rallying for a wild 48-43 win at Ole Miss --- a team that was seeking its third straight win in the series, something that just doesn't happen to Alabama.

"When we were down by 21," Hentges said, "we all looked inside ourselves and said that we didn't want to lose to these guys again and have our season go down the drain."

Those 43 points accounted for no less than 28 percent of points allowed by the Tide this season. As it turns out, that's no huge surprise, because there's no better unit in college football than Alabama's defense, a unit that's littered with NFL talent.

Hentges knows this all too well, because he has the pleasure of lining up against these guys every day in practice.

"They really are the best competition we get to play," he said. "I think that's what makes us better as an offense --- I think we've gotten a lot better, and that's due credit to how good our defense is, teaching us what we're going to have to do to compete with these other great teams, especially in the SEC."

The Alabama defense has given up three rushing touchdowns --- ALL SEASON. THREE. One of the main reasons is senior All-American tackle Jonathan Allen, who was so good this season he was mentioned in the Heisman conversation.

"When you try to block a 6-foot-3, 290-pound freak" Hentges said of his experience with Allen, "it's tough."

Now an accomplished blocker, Hentges finds himself protecting and opening holes for a true freshman at the most important position on the field, quarterback Jalen Hurts.

"He's a phenomenal leader, especially for someone who's so young," Hentges said. "He shows up on game day, that's for sure."

At times, Hurts almost seems to be playing half-speed and with half-interest. That's who he is, Hentges says. 

"He just goes with the flow, he's always cool and calm," said Hentges, who was back in Jefferson City for a week following the SEC Championship game on Dec. 3. "But when it's time to play, he's locked in, he's fiery."

Alabama is a 15-point favorite against Washington when the teams meet in the first semifinal at 3 p.m. on New Year's Eve, giving both teams four full weeks between games. Which brings us to the age-old question --- will the teams be rested or rusted?


"We've had some time off, but it's nice to kind of step away from the game-planning aspect of it for a while," Hentges said. "Because when you're in season, it's Texas A&M then LSU then so-and-so week after week after week, so it's nice to step away from that mindset for a little bit.

"But I'm ready to play. I'm looking forward to getting back out there."

Most believe it's a foregone conclusion that Alabama will beat Washington (thus, the high point-spread) and advance to play either Ohio State on Jan. 9. The winner of that one seems a bit more in question.

"We lost a lot of players and a lot of talent (to graduation and the draft), but we have so much great talent here and we've had guys step up," Hentges said. "Hopefully, we'll have two more games and can put an exclamation point on what we're trying to accomplish."

At stake? The national championship.

And those 20 minutes.

While Hale Hentges was certainly a dynamic offensive force at tight end for Helias, he's been a blocking tight end in his first two years at Alabama.

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