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Alabama rules All-SEC team; Vols safety Berry unanimous pick

Staff Report • Dec 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM

ATLANTA — After an undefeated romp through the season, No. 1 Alabama kept right on rolling when the honors were handed out on The Associated Press All-Southeastern Conference football team Monday.

The Crimson Tide picked off the top three individual awards: running back Mark Ingram was named offensive player of the year, linebacker Rolando McClain led the vote for the top defensive player and Nick Saban claimed his second straight coach of the year honor.

The only award that didn’t go to Alabama? Freshman of the year, which was won by Vanderbilt running back and return specialist Warren Norman.

Alabama routed defending national champion Florida in the SEC title game this past weekend and will face Texas for the BCS championship.

The AP’s first team included seven Tide players, more than any other school.

Ingram, only a sophomore, was among five unanimous selections to the first team after breaking the school’s season rushing record with 1,542 yards and scoring three touchdowns against the Gators.

“Mark has had a phenomenal year,” Saban said. “He’s got quickness, change of direction, got speed, good instincts. He can run behind his pads. He has good hands and is a good receiver. He’s had one of those years that probably make him ... one of the best players in the country.”

McClain also fits in that category, leading an Alabama defense that allowed the fewest average points of any team in the nation, capped by a stellar effort against Tim Tebow and the Gators in a 32-13 victory. The 6-foot-4, 258-pound junior led the Tide with 101 tackles, including 12.5 behind the line and four sacks.

The others named on every ballot were Alabama’s massive defensive tackle, Terrence Cody, along with South Carolina linebacker Eric Norwood and Tennessee safety Eric Berry.

Norman took the freshman award by leading the SEC in all-purpose yards at 161.8 per game. He ranked eighth in rushing with 783 yards rushing and returned three kickoffs for touchdowns.

“It’s kind of hard for me to even grasp being mentioned with the likes of Herschel Walker, who was one of the greatest players in SEC history,” Norman said.

The remaining Tide selections to the first team were offensive guard Mike Johnson, cornerback Javier Arenas, safety Mark Barron and kicker Leigh Tiffin.

Saban earned another coaching award for his quick rebuilding of a storied program that had gone through four coaches in seven years before he arrived in 2007. Alabama struggled his first season — even losing to Louisiana-Monroe — but the Tide won its first 12 games a year ago before falling to Florida in the SEC title game.

Determined to make up for that disappointment, the Tide bounced back to win the SEC championship for the first time in a decade and put itself one win away from its first national title since 1992.

“This team wanted to prove that they could do something special and they wanted to be as good as they could possibly be,” Saban said.

Florida (12-1) placed six players on the first team, including Tebow for the third year in a row. Tebow, however, wasn’t a unanimous selection — Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett picked up three out of 12 votes to make the second team — and his two-year reign as the SEC’s top offensive player was snapped by Ingram.

Plus, the loss in Atlanta meant Florida had to settle for a Sugar Bowl matchup against Cincinnati rather than a shot at its third national title in four years.

“This is not how we wanted to finish our season in the SEC,” Tebow said. “It was frustrating. To say it wasn’t, that would be a lie.”

Center Maurkice Pouncey and guard Mike Pouncey, twin brothers on the Florida line, also made the first team, as did teammates Aaron Hernandez at tight end, Carlos Dunlap at defensive end and Joe Haden at cornerback.

Georgia and Mississippi both placed three players on the team. Receiver A.J. Green, linebacker Rennie Curran and punter Drew Butler made it for the Bulldogs. The Rebels were represented by receiver Shay Hodge, offensive tackle John Jerry and all-purpose player Dexter McCluster, who also made the second team as a running back.

The rest of the first team was comprised of LSU offensive tackle Ciron Black, Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon, Kentucky all-purpose player Randall Cobb, Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman and Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams.

Joining Tebow as repeat selections were Green, Coleman, Cody, McClain, Norwood and Berry.

Berry is second on the UT team and third among SEC defensive backs with 83 tackles. He has seven pass breakups, six tackles for loss, two fumble returns for a total of 48 yards, two interceptions and a forced fumble.

Berry sits second in NCAA history with 494 interception return yards.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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