Unlikely Trio Turn into 'Bama Defensive Stars

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Wallace Gilberry was serving pancakes to hungry customers, Rashad Johnson dreamed of playing for Alabama while working at his local Piggly Wiggly and Darren Mustin was a reserve linebacker at Middle Tennessee before giving up his scholarship and transferring.

This trio of improbable Crimson Tide defensive stars -- two former walk-ons and self-proclaimed "diamond in the rough" Gilberry -- emerged this season as probably the steadiest performers on defense.

And they are the top three tacklers leading up to the Independence Bowl December 30th against Colorado.

Gilberry, a defensive end, and Johnson, a free safety, were first-team All-Southeastern Conference picks. Mustin and Johnson were voted captains by their teammates following the regular season.

Gilberry says it seems like just yesterday that nobody really knew who he was. That's changed. Gilberry had nine sacks and led the league with 22 tackles for loss. He says he's done almost everything in his power to leave a good legacy behind.

Not bad for a guy who was discovered by then-Tide coach Mike Shula at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic following his senior year in high school.

Now, Gilberry has been invited to play in next month's Senior Bowl in an audition for NFL teams held in Mobile.

Like that other all-star game, it's held in Ladd-Peebles Stadium not far from his hometown of Bay Minette.

The Senior Bowl? Seriously?

Gilberry says it's a dream come true.

Johnson, of Sulligent, is pretty satisfied with how things are turning out, too. The player who once labored anonymously as a scout-team running back for the Tide finished in a three-way tie for the SEC lead with six interceptions this season.

And he turned into an All-SEC performer.

Johnson and Mustin were voted as team captains by their teammates, along with center Antoine Caldwell.

For Mustin, that came as a surprise for a guy who had eight tackles as a junior. Mustin had 72 tackles this season.

He says it hasn't really settled in, adding: "I just thank God that happened. It's a blessing. I think my dad was proud of me. I think my family was proud of that. It's something you can show your kids. I'm still shocked."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)