Hard work, perseverance paved Elijah Pritchett's path to Alabama
It’s hard to believe now, but Elijah Pritchett’s illustrious high school career began with him getting "fired" in his first week. Then just 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, the current four-star prospect had dreams of lining up at defensive end for George Washington Carver High School in Columbus, Ga.
That didn’t last long.
“He just didn’t have it,” Carver recruiting coordinator Johnny Garner said with a laugh. “Just being frank, he was not very good on the defensive line. He was maybe there for one week and it was like, ‘Nah, this isn’t it, we’re going to move you to the opposite side of the ball. Instead of getting down, he ended up trusting what the coaches were saying, put his head down and started working at offensive tackle. Now, look at him.”
Three years later, Pritchett has made a name for himself by protecting quarterbacks instead of chasing them down. The 6-foot-7, 290-pound offensive tackle has started for Carver since his sophomore season, consistently knocking down countless defenders while picking up 24 scholarship offers along the way.
Tuesday, Pritchett announced he’ll be bringing that protection to Tuscaloosa, Ala., as he committed to Alabama over a top-four that also included Florida State, Georgia and Southern California. He is the 15th member of the Crimson Tide’s 2022 class, joining fellow four-star offensive linemen Tyler Booker and Dayne Shor.
Rated as the No. 10 offensive tackle and No. 106 overall player in his class, Pritchett’s transition to the college level figures to be quite a bit smoother than the one he faced three years ago.
“You’ve got a guy who’s barely scraping the surface when it comes to his potential,” Garner said. “He’s the prototypical NFL size, and he’s an extremely athletic guy. You’re going to see a guy who is hard-nosed, and he’s nasty. He loves to finish people.”
Pritchett’s junior highlight film consists of roughly four minutes of him either plowing opposing defenders into the turf or manhandling them 15-20 yards downfield on running plays. While the blocks stand out on film, Garner said they’ve been even more enjoyable to watch on the sideline over the past three seasons.
“It’s just like something you see out of a movie,” he said. “I remember our scrimmage against Mays (High School) this fall, it was like the second play of the game and he literally laid a guy out like that guy in ‘The Blind Side.’ He took him down the field expeditiously, it was extremely fast how he got off the ball and how violent he was. … There are a couple of Elijah Pritchett moments throughout the years that we will never forget.”
While Pritchett has the ability to overpower defenders, he prides himself on the athleticism he brings to the position. The 290-pounder isn’t shy to show off his sprinting ability during practice and often turns a few heads with his surprising speed.
“He does surprise us sometimes with how athletic he is,” Garner said. “He’s freakish when it comes to the offensive tackle position. You just look at his build, the guy’s 295 pounds and doesn’t have a gut. We use him a lot in the screen game. He can run in open space, and he takes great angles.
“He’s what you want. There’s a reason he’s an All-American. He’s got the skills you need in today’s game.”
Pritchett’s talent might be unmistakable now, but there was a time when he wasn’t such a can’t miss prospect. Academic issues made him ineligible for much of his eighth-grade season, leaving him a bit raw entering the high school level.
It was at that point that Pritchett decided to up his focus both on and off the field in order to reach his true potential. Guided by the support of his coaching staff and his mother, Nicole Thrasher, Pritchett earned Muscogee County School District’s 180 Degree award given to students who have shown tremendous improvement in academics, behavior and attendance.
“He began to realize that football was something that he really loved to do and he just bought into what he needed to do,” Thrasher said. “He understood that the school work was a part of it and just committed himself 100 percent to that. I was very proud of him because that was really the first step of him really taking his schoolwork seriously.”
Pritchett’s improved work ethic in the classroom spilled over to the football field as he transformed from a project on the offensive line during his freshman year into a starter at tackle the following season.
That development came through both sweat-drenched workouts in the weight room as well as some extra studying outside of practice. Garner even remembers a time during Pritchett’s sophomore year when he was disciplined in class after taking out his phone after completing his assignment. The offensive lineman was caught looking up highlights of Trent Williams as he looked to add some of the eight-time NFL Pro Bowler’s moves into his own game.
“He told O-line coach, and it’s like you can’t get too mad at him for it,” Garner said with a laugh. “It was nice to see that he was looking up stuff on his own, but that’s just him. Elijah Pritchett has always been a hard worker. We knew he could be something just by how hard he worked. When he came, he wasn’t the best football player, but everything the coaches said to him, it stuck. You always saw him make efforts to get better.”
Garner believes Pritchett’s drive over the past three years will pay off at Alabama, stating the offensive lineman will enter college already polished at the position. Pritchett is set to join a stacked unit at Alabama as the Tide added five offensive linemen in last year’s class, including five-star talents JC Latham and Tommy Brockermeyer. While that could create a tough battle for early playing time, Pritchett is no stranger to working for his place on the field.
“I think it will be good for him,” Thrasher said. “He’s used to a rigorous training program at his high school, and I think he’s ready to take it to the next level. He’s a hard worker he isn’t afraid to work. He wants to be great, and he knows what it takes, so I believe he will shine over there.”