TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Roy Upchurch isn’t wary of getting hit on the football field even after neck surgery.
On the contrary, the challenge for Alabama coach Nick Saban has been holding the tailback back throughout spring practice to avoid risking a setback in his recovery.
“Psychologically from his standpoint, he’s not affected by it. He’s not bothered by it,” Saban said on Thursday. “He goes out there every day in practice and says he’s ready to go and, ‘Why can’t I go and why can’t you let me hit?’
“I don’t see it being an issue. There’s a lot of people that have played with this injury and the surgery that he had. He seems to be very confident.”
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Upchurch has been held out of contact during the spring after an injury that was the latest blow in his career. This time the timing was especially bad since the tailback spot is open after Glen Coffee left for the NFL. Upchurch was expected to compete during the spring with Mark Ingram, who has also been limited by a hamstring injury.
The confident senior was hardly down in speaking to the media after the final practice before Saturday’s spring game, which he won’t be able to play in. He even describes the surgery with a smile and a little bravado.
“They went in and took a disc out and fused two of them together and voila, how y’all doing?” he said, grinning.
Upchurch was having his best season behind Coffee last year before getting injured in practice.
He gained 350 yards rushing and 101 receiving, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Upchurch was sidelined for four games and made an aborted comeback attempt in the regular-season finale against Auburn.
“It was a weird feeling and I felt like no one really knew there was something wrong with me but me,” he said.
The former Parade all-American also had his redshirt freshman season end four games in when he had to undergo ankle surgery. Quarterback Greg McElroy said Upchurch has made an impact helping mentor younger backs during the spring — and made an impression with his attitude.
“Roy’s demeanor is second to none,” McElroy said. “He’s a team-first guy. He’s a good personality to have in the locker room. He’s friendly. He’s really just a pleasure to have on our side of the ball. He’s had a lot of bad luck since he’s been here. I think he’s ready to go out with a bang and leave a legacy of his own.”
Upchurch said doctors have told him the injury isn’t a risk to his career, and that a number of NFL players have returned from the same operation.
“I’m always confident about my situations and my mind-set is to always bounce back,” he said. “Now that I have had the surgery, I’m ready for contact. I’m looking forward to it. If I just go out there scared, I’m just going to get hurt again. So why not go all out?”
His coach can feel his pain, since Saban had a similar procedure.
“He always gives me a hard time, he said he bounced back after two weeks,” Upchurch said. “He gives me a hard time about it. He said, ‘They don’t make ’em the same anymore.’ ”
Notes: Saban said the most pleasant surprise on defense has been the play of safety Robby Green. On offense, he singled out the entire receiving corps and McElroy. On McElroy, he added, “Not surprising to me, but maybe surprising to some people.” … Backup place-kicker Corey Smith has decided to leave the team and likely transfer to another school, Saban said.