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January 20, 2012In the first quarter of the 2011 season, Trey DePriest served notice that he was going to make an impact on the University of Alabama football team.
A violent impact.
The freshman linebacker from Springfield, Ohio, flew down the field on the third kickoff of UA's season opener against Kent State and hammered returner Darius Polk into the turf at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It was the first of 25 tackles the 6-foot-2, 242-pound freshman made in a season that saw him rise from special teams star to a key backup role on the Crimson Tide's national championship defense.
"In high school, it's more of a 'ooh.' When you get here, it's 'Oooooooh,' like real loud, with a whole bunch of people there," DePriest said in New Orleans a few days before the Bowl Championship Series national title game, recalling that first big hit.
"The special teams coaches, that's what they were hyping: 'Go down and make a big hit, make a big hit.' It felt good."
DePriest was a hit with his defensive coordinator as he moved into the backup spot behind Dont'a Hightower at middle linebacker by midseason.
"Trey's a young guy who came in early, so he's ahead of most young guys, he's got a spring on everybody," Kirby Smart said before Alabama's 21-0 victory over LSU at the BCS National Championship Game. "He's really learning the defense. Plays hard. Has great speed.
"Again, he's got to get bigger, stronger, but he's a fast guy that can fly to the ball. We're looking for good things. Glad we got him."
DePriest graduated from high school early to enroll at UA last January. DePriest got an edge in learning Alabama's defense by participating in spring practice, but he also learned some things in doing what he needed to do to be able to enroll early.
"I didn't have to take summer classes," he said. "I was already ahead anyway. I had to fulfill two English classes in one semester (during his senior season of prep football). When you get here, you really have to manage your time. It's really laid out for you, but you've got to know when to rest and when to go out and do what you want to do, and you've got to manage your money a little bit better."
It took DePriest some time to catch on to Alabama's complex defensive schemes.
"When I first got there I was lost in the sauce, I didn't have a clue," he said. "When I first got here it was super-hard. I couldn't run well, I wasn't sure where to be, all that. Now I've gotten a little better about it."
Serving as an understudy to Hightower, an All-American, helped.
"Being behind Dont'a, all you've got to do is watch him," DePriest said. "With him being one of the best linebackers in the country, you've got to learn something. It's easy to learn from him."
When DePriest substituted for Hightower in game situations, he also took over the role of calling the defenses on the field. It's a role he will work in spring practice to perfect.
"I'm not where I want to be," he said. "I want to master it, but that's tough having this complex a defense."
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.