TUSCALOOSA | Anthony Steen called D.J. Fluker out.
So did Cyrus Kouandjio.
And AJ McCarron.
The University of Alabama's 6-foot-6, 335-pound right tackle was challenged this season by his teammates, and he's thankful for it. It made Fluker a better player.
"My right guard and my left tackle called me out and said, 'Hey, we need you for this.' And my quarterback did it as well," Fluker said.
"They were like, 'Hey, you can do it. I believe in you.' That's what a team is. Everybody depends on one another."
It wasn't like Fluker was loafing on the football field. It was more a case of Fluker doing enough to get by but not fully tapping his potential. His teammates knew that his size and strength could make him a force of nature, and they knew they would need that kind of force to get through the toughest part of the season.
They knew that Alabama didn't just need Fluker. It needed Fluker with an attitude.
"I tried to do my best every game, but sometimes you've really got to go out there and take what you want," Fluker said. "They know when I'm motivated I'm going to go out there and do it.
"When we have a big challenge, like when we played LSU, they were like we really need you this game, come on and step it up. When somebody calls your number, calls your name out, you've got to go out there and perform."
Fluker played well against LSU, and even better against Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, where he and Steen took over in the second half and began to pave the way for a running back that ultimately broke the will of a highly-rated Georgia defense.
When things got tough in that SEC title game, Fluker became an emotional leader. He pumped his fists and screamed and fired up his teammates the way they had picked him up earlier in the season. As they demanded more from him, he demanded more with Alabama's season and national championship hopes on the line.
"When one of the guys gets motivated, they're all going to get motivated together," Fluker said. "That's the main thing is you've got to pick your teammates up when they're down, and that's what we do best. When we're down, somebody is going to pick you back up, and I felt that I was the guy to do that."
Tight end Michael Williams has lined up alongside Fluker enough times over the year to watch him grow into a player who can command more from others, and into a teammate.
"You saw D.J. as a freshman, athletically he had all that but he wasn't very confident in making this call or telling me to do this or that," Williams said. "Now he listens to me and I listen to him and we just gel together, and it's supposed to happen like that after three years of working together, being beside each other. The chemistry is there and we're a very good, cohesive unit."
Fluker is projected by some experts as a first- or second-round pick in next spring's National Football League draft, and he will soon have to decide whether to enter the draft or return for his senior season. Fluker said last week that he hasn't made that decision, and that it will be made in consultation with his family and the UA coaching staff.
That kind of career decision isn't what motivates Fluker. Right now, Notre Dame and the upcoming BCS National Championship Game is his motivation.
"Right now I'm really highly motivated," he said.
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.