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Tony Tsoukalas | The Anniston Star | November 22, 2016

For Alabama, Iron Bowl rivalry has elementary roots

  No. 1 Alabama hosts top rival Auburn this week in Tuscaloosa.

TUSCALOOSA -- There was no room for middle ground at Gwin Elementary in Hoover during Iron Bowl week.

On the Friday before the game, students picked their colors, their table, and for at least a day their friends.

"Growing up in Alabama, it's kind of a big deal," said Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who attended Gwin and is one of the many in-state players on the Crimson Tide's roster who grew up immersed in the rivalry. "I remember my earliest memory of it was elementary school and everything we did was separated by Alabama or Auburn. You ate lunch with Alabama fans. So, just looking back on that it's a big deal, I know it affects a lot of people. So not winning it is a big deal."

Humphrey's choice was easy. His dad, Bobby Humphrey was a star running back for the Tide from 1985-88. Marlon said he remembers wearing his dad's old Alabama jacket along with a red wig to school. He also sat on the Alabama side during the PE competitions, using his track-star speed much to the delight of his fellow Tide-supporting friends.

"I always tried to pull my weight because I was pretty athletic when I was young," Humphrey said. "So it was always good to be on the Alabama side because we were always winning."

Humphrey said the majority of kids in his school pulled for Alabama, and trash talk wasn't too big of a problem when he was that young. That was a good thing for the young defensive back, as Auburn was in the midst of a six-game winning streak against the Tide.

MORE: Heisman Watch: Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts

Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson, whose cousin Wallace Gilberry played for the Tide from 2004-07, wasn't so lucky. Anderson, who grew up in Daphne, remembers being constantly reminded of Alabama's losing streak to the Tigers by some of the Auburn fans in his class.

"Just going to school, the other kids holding up their thumb for six in a row, all that stuff, I hated it, man," Anderson said. "I said if I ever had a chance to play here, play against them, I just don't want to lose to them."

Eventually, the taunting got too much.

"Yeah, I kicked one dude," Anderson said before giving off a smile.

Lucky for the other kid, Anderson said he hadn't quite grown into the hulking frame he holds today. However, it's safe to say the argument ended right there.

Alabama center Bradley Bozeman grew up 45 minutes away from Auburn in Roanoke. Despite living in Tiger country, Bozeman and most of his family supported the Tide.

Making his first Iron Bowl start Saturday, the junior said the moment is something he's fantasized about since he first started playing the sport.

"Definitely as a kid, you grow up dreaming about this, and it's coming true," Bozeman said. "Hopefully we'll bring our best and see what happens."

MORE: Bama is one of two undefeated teams left in the FBS

Many believe this year's matchup has lost a bit of luster, as Alabama enters the game with the SEC West already locked up. Alabama is also the only undefeated team remaining in the College Football Playoff race and could most likely lose and still be selected as one of the final four teams.

Just don't tell that to any of the Alabama players on the Tide's roster -- they're not buying it. This game's still personal, and nothing can change that.

"I think when you get out there you just kind of feel it on the field," Humphrey said. "It's that rivalry, it makes you just want to play to your best just knowing that there's going to be a play in the game that people will remember for that whole year, that will define that game."

This article was written by Tony Tsoukalas from The Anniston Star and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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