ATLANTA – Before Reuben Foster was the Butkus Award winner, All-American linebacker lovingly nicknamed the Reuben Missile Crisis, he was an oft-injured younger player who simply had trouble getting and staying on the field because he hadn’t yet figured out the defense.
The turning point in his career, believe or not, came when he joined his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, in the spring of 2015. From that point on, his play speaks for itself: he’s compiled 167 tackles and 20 tackles for loss during that time.
Foster, who will suit up for the Crimson Tide in Saturday's Peach Bowl semifinal in the College Football Playoff, said it was during his pledge process when things began to click for him on the field.
“Everything changed when I pledged Omega,” Foster said. “I had to learn about all the history of Omega Psi Phi. I was like, ‘Dang, I’m learning all this but I can’t learn this defense.’ I said I might as well go ahead and take the chance and really learn this, the ins and outs of the defense.
"That’s how it clicked when I pledged, then I had to learn our history and our defense. After that it was easy.”
Foster is easy to like, with a smile that spreads wide and a gentle demeanor (at least off the field). He’s one of the most popular players on the team because of that gentleness and a spirit of giving. Watching him play, you get the sense that he’d almost rather someone else have success than himself.
“One of the things that makes Reuben a very popular guy from a personality standpoint is, in a day and age where everybody is into selfies and ‘What about me?’ he’s a guy that’s pretty interested in the relationships that he has and how he affects other people,” UA head coach Nick Saban said recently.
“He actually cares a lot about not just how he does or plays, but he also assumes a leadership role and how he affects other people. That comes to a large degree in how much you care about others. That’s one of the reasons that he is a very popular guy. He’s a got a great personality. I think a lot of people are attracted to him because of that. I also think he’s very caring in terms of what he’s willing to do to help someone else.”
From players, coaches, trainers and staff members alike, Foster is universally beloved. People just like being around him because of his positive attitude and the way he makes others feel about themselves.
That’s not a quality that is easily faked. It’s that kind of genuineness that lends itself to popularity.
When Foster set about losing 20 pounds this offseason with the goal of being faster this season, he leaned on team nutritionist Amy Bragg, whom he lovingly referred to as a motherly type.
“She’s like my mom. … When your mom makes you a plate, you’re going to eat everything on your plate,” Foster joked.
He has an ability to make relationships, like the one with Bragg or any number of his teammates. Those relationships shows his generous, caring nature.
“He’s real,” Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said. “What you see is kind of what you get. He’s my type of guy. I like Reuben a lot.
“He’s very unselfish. He’s a pleaser. He wants everybody to be happy. He’s a very good leader, especially by example. The kid’s been banged up and hurt all year and even days our training staff has suggested that maybe he sit out, he never does that. He always wants to go. Very unique competitor.”
Foster’s ability on the football field is evident. He’s fast, instinctive and has a quick-twitch ability at middle linebacker that, quite frankly, the team hasn’t often had under Saban. He’s easily impressed the Washington coaching staff.
“You're aware because he just shows up all over the film,” Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “I mean he's right there in the middle for you to see, but that guy, he's unbelievable. You know: run game, pass game, he's instinctive, he's physical, he creates some havoc, he's a good blitzer, he knows where he's going in the run game in regard to fits, if they're moving the D-line where he fits into that thing. That guy's a good player; I don't think we've played a better player this year.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.