Alabama LB Eyabi Anoma clarifies cryptic tweet
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — This was all a big misunderstanding. Alabama linebacker Eyabi Anoma wants to make that clear from the start. Two weeks ago, the five-star freshman sent Alabama fans and even head coach Nick Saban into a bit of a shock when he posted an ambiguous tweet, stating “Made a decision and will stick by it.”
The initial reaction from most was that Anoma was considering a transfer. Despite earning SEC All-Freshman honors this season, the 6-foot-5 outside linebacker hasn’t played the role he expected when joining the Crimson Tide as the No. 7 player overall in the 2018 class. Although, while he’s had his share of frustrating moments this season, that wasn’t the message Anoma was trying to send.
“Everybody misread that tweet. The tweet wasn’t about transferring at all,” Anoma said. “The tweet was about I have family, so like my grandma she’s sick. I made a decision. My grandma, I’m going to play for her. I’m about to turn it up a whole 30 notches. I’m going to try and do what I can do to try and get on the field ASAP so my grandmother can see me.”
Anoma’s grandmother, Grace Bisong, recently underwent heart surgery and is on her way toward recovery. However, the brief scare served as a wakeup call for Anoma, who still gets emotional when talking about it. Bisong played a key matriarchal role in Anoma’s life. The Alabama linebacker describes her as one of his driving forces and even pays tribute by wearing No. 9, her favorite number.
“I was home right before she had her heart surgery,” Anoma said. “It was like it could have gone either way. It could have been the last time I ever saw her.”
Anoma said Saban knew a little bit about his grandmother’s situation but was caught off guard by the initial tweet. The two later sat down and discussed the situation as the freshman linebacker reassured his head coach that he wasn’t going anywhere.
“It was just about getting on the same page with him and him knowing my situation,” Anoma said. “He just told me if I need anything to come talk to him. He set me up for counseling so I don’t get too down. I’ve been down a lot because of my grandma.”
This has been an up-and-down year for Anoma, who has tallied nine tackles including two for a loss over 12 games. While he’s shown flashes of brilliance, his time on the field has been limited as he’s struggled to grasp Alabama’s diverse defensive scheme.
“I feel like I let myself down with my play during some of the times I did get an opportunity, but I can’t be mad because we’re here. I’m pretty happy. Obviously, SEC All-Freshman team was my goal, so it’s nice to have that.”
Anoma’s transition to the college game was always going to be difficult. The former basketball player didn’t even begin playing football until his junior year of high school at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, Md. Despite tallying more than 50 sacks during his two seasons of high school, the athletic pass-rusher is still raw when it comes to the fundamentals of the game.
Over the past two years, Anoma admits he’s been able to use his elite athleticism to overpower weaker opponents. However, during his first couple practices with Alabama he soon learned those days were over. The freshman linebacker still remembers an eye-opening moment during summer camp as he collided with tight end Miller Forristall during a run-blocking drill.
“He pulled, and I’m going full speed. But I’m going full speed not knowing that Miller’s coming with it,” Anoma said. “Miller came with it, and I came with it too, but I was like, ‘Wow, this is college football. This is how I’m going to have to go every play or else I’ll get put down.’”
Along with adjusting to the next level, Anoma has battled with ADHD. The constant challenge of controlling his focus has made picking up Alabama’s defensive playbook that much harder.
“I’m really trying to lock in, but I can’t sometimes. It’s like I’m there, but I’m not there,” Anoma said. "I’m dealing with it. It’s a day-to-day thing. During training camp, we’re learning base. I’m right there. I’m learning everything. In my mind, I paid attention and everything, and when I got to the field, it’s gone.”
One thing aiding Anoma has been the high-energy approach of defensive coordinator/outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi. The first-year defensive coordinator is one of Alabama’s most vocal assistants and often takes a hands-on approach with players during practice, something Anoma said has allowed him to cope with his ADHD.
“I’m just constantly challenging him,” Lupoi said. “There are some things where I think he’s starting to separate the packages within, so I think he’s making some improvements to specific packages we have. Now the exciting challenge is to take that next step and separate those packages and get comfortable within them.”
Anoma also credits his growth to the help he’s received from some of his veteran teammates. Fellow Washington Metropolitan area native Terrell Lewis has taken Anoma under his wing this season, reminding him that he, too, had to wait for his opportunity at Alabama.
“I’m just trying to keep his head straight and keep him positive,” Lewis said. “I keep telling him, ‘You’ve got to be patient when it comes to things. Even if you think you’re ready, you’ve got to sit back and learn this playbook and why you do certain things in certain situations.”
Anoma was involved in just three snaps during Alabama’s 45-34 victory over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. However, he could be in line for some extended playing time as starting outside linebacker Christian Miller suffered a hamstring injury against the Sooners. No. 1 Alabama will face No. 2 Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Jan. 7.
“The way I’m thinking is if I can’t play and get on the field then I’m going to do whatever I can to help. I know that what I can bring to the table can help,” Anoma said. “If I can’t get on the field, I’m definitely going to help our offense prepare. Whoever we play, they don’t have a pass-rusher like me.”