Walk-On Brought His Gift To Alabama

It's a gift, one shared with a national television audience earlier this year, but now only reluctantly even discussed. Understandable, since it's a fine line to parody The Man, perhaps his future boss.



Sportswriters covering Alabama first heard about the Rob Ezell imitation of Nick Saban from Saban last August. "You need to get him to do it," Saban said. But with few exceptions--notably for an ESPN special on Alabama in the pre-season--Ezell is unwilling to perform.

Rob Ezell is a 5-10, 172-pound senior wide receiver from Athens. The walk-on hasn't been seen much in Crimson Tide games. A play as a sophomore, another as a junior, a couple this season. Nevertheless, Ezell is considered a key member of the team by his coach and teammates for his work in practice.

Ezell's fame, though, comes from his talent to imitate Saban.

He first realized the gift during a practice a few years ago. "I think we were doing field goal and I think we missed a few," Ezell said. "I was standing next to Antoine Caldwell and Nick Walker and John Parker Wilson. Coach Saban was yelling and I yelled.

"Antoine looked at me and said, ‘Can you do that again?' Do it again!' I did it and he started laughing and rounded up a crew. He was like, ‘Come on, Dude. Do it again.' I did and they said I sounded just like him.

"I didn't think anything of it. The next thing you know, I was having to do it just about every day for the next couple of weeks."

Ezell's football playing career will come to an end this week when the Crimson Tide meets Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando on January 1. Odds are it will be another game in which he doesn't see action.

But it's not necessarily the end of his career in football.

Ezell would like to be a football coach, and his teammates hope he begins his career as a graduate assistant with the Crimson Tide following his playing career.

"If I was him I'd go impersonate people," Saban said. He'd probably make more money, probably have a better career, probably have better job security. Probably wouldn't have to work as many hours. Probably wouldn't have to work on holidays. You know, my anniversary was the 18th (of December). I'm not sure I even saw her (wife Terry) that day. My recommendation would be: he's got a talent, he ought to use it."

Saban added, though, "He would be a good coach. He's a bright guy. He understands the game. He played quarterback. He does a really good job at practice every day of helping to organize things on the field for the scout team. He would be a very good coach. He's a very high-energy guy, has a lot of positive energy that affects a lot of people in a positive way. I certainly think he would be a very good coach."

As might be expected, Saban can take it, but he can also dish it out.

One reason Ezell declines to do his impersonation is a fear of "40-40s at 6 a.m.," a behavior-modification technique. Perhaps after the bowl game?

"I don't know," Ezell said. "Coach Saban is one of those guys who can follow you. You know when to do it and when not to do it. I think he kind of likes it a little bit, but I'm not going to do it in front of anybody again."

He said that Saban had suggested that maybe Ezell needs to do more running or other "old high school dog drill, roll a hundred yards, stuff like that." The coach also said during the fourth quarter off-season drills that he could impersonate Ezell, "leaning over like tired. It's all in fun, but he gets back at me, for sure."

Tide players get the Saban imitation on the practice field at times, and Ezell said there have been occasions when a player thought it was the coach; or the player thought it was Ezell, and it turned out to be Saban. But usually it's in the players locker room, where Saban never goes.

Safety Robert Lester said he is entertained by Ezell's impersonation, but hasn't been fooled into thinking it was his head coach.

Lester said, "He does a great job as a player and as a person. He contributes a lot to the team. He may not be on the field a lot, but he's making sure the scout team is in order and doing its job. He works hard."

Following a recent practice, Alabama center William Vlachos said, "There's not a guy in this building who doesn't like Rob Ezell. He's a great teammate and he cares about the team as much as anybody. He loves the game of football. I think he'll do something with football the rest of his life -- coaching, administrative. He's going to stick with this game. He's a passionate player who really likes th game and loves being a part of this team.

"He's embraced the role he has."

Ezell was a very fine high school player who could have gone to a college at a lower level than Alabama and been a successful quarterback, but he has no regrets about his career with the Crimson Tide.

 "No, not at all, really," Ezell said. "My goal here, the bottom line goal when I came here, I wanted to be the kind of player that I felt like Coach Bryant would like to have on his team. ... To look back at it and say, ‘Hey, Coach Bryant, who means a lot to me and a lot of people, I think he would have liked me.' That means a lot to me.  

"Just being part of it. Just being a part of what I think is the greatest program in college football."  

No one could have said it better.

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