Senior veterans anchor Bama's O-Line

Like every senior on this team, Alonzo Ephraim and Marico Portis have been through the good, bad, and ugly of Alabama football.

The two experienced a conference championship in 1999, when Portis was a redshirt freshman and Ephraim was a true freshman. It went downhill then next year, as the team went 3-8. But the following year, in 2001, the two found themselves in starting positions. They will continue that this year, with Ephraim at center and Portis at strong guard.

Alonzo Ephraim (#58) and Marico Portis (#71) listen to a reporter's questions. Friends on and off the field, the two are senior leaders on the offensive line.

But it hasn't been easy for the two seniors, who are now roommates. Both played very little in 1999 and 2000, before claiming starting positions on the offensive line for 2001. They relied on each other for motivation and support.

"It was hard at first, but we bonded so tight," Ephraim said. "We kept each other up. We kept telling each other we were going to get our time, but when our time comes we have to be ready for it."

It was especially hard for Ephraim, who many feel wasted a year of eligibility in 1999, his true freshman year. He played 29 snaps in only two games, with 25 of those coming in the second game of the year against Houston. Ephraim still wonders why the coaches played him that season, but knows there's nothing he can do about it now.

"I look back at it and wonder why," Ephraim said. "After the season, we had a meeting, and I met with Coach Callaway (then the offensive line coach). He told me he didn't regret not redshirting me, but if he had it to do all over again, he would have played me more. I put that in the hands of my coach and trust his decision. I can't go back against something that he did."

Now the two are in positions of leadership. While Ephraim is deemed the vocal leader of the offensive line, Portis does all of his talking on the field.

Starting every game last year, Portis had six games where he finished 100 percent on blocking assignments and a total of 118 knockdown blocks for the season.

"I show by example," Portis said. "I go out there and bust my butt every day. I [am] physical every day no matter what we're doing. I show them by being physical and teaching them how to be physical. I don't talk a lot, I'm not very vocal, but I show my leadership through that."

Ephraim said veterans trained him when he arrived on campus. He noted Chris Samuels, a first-round draft pick by the Washington Redskins and an All-American while at Alabama, as one who taught him how to gain respect.

"When I first got here, I was being trained by watching others lead. Chris Samuels was very vocal on the offensive line. You have to earn the respect of your teammates. It's not a certain thing that you can say, its just knowing when and when not to say something. It's knowing when and when not to react."

The leadership of the two seniors has not gone unnoticed by the younger guys on the offensive line. The other three starters, Wesley Britt, Evan Mathis, and Justin Smiley, are all entering their redshirt sophomore seasons. They must learn all they can from the seniors now because their time is not that far away.

"They've done a good job of showing us the ropes," Mathis said. "You look up to them as a role model, you can look to them to be your best friend, you can look to them to hold the rope when you need them to. They're a great pair to have."

Bama's only returning All-SEC player, Ephraim is rated one of the best centers in the nation.

So what makes each one of them good? Ask one for reliable input about the other.

"He's good at taking care of his job," said Ephraim, about Portis. "He might not say much on the field, but he shows it. When you see him busting his butt, knocking somebody out, that makes us want to go out and knock somebody out harder."

"Alonzo is very consistent," said Portis. "He's a physical guy, and he's a leader. When we're out there on the field, feeling down and feeling tired, he's the one that gets us going. He's the vocal leader on the offensive line."

Both of them aren't being recognized for their efforts though. Although Ephraim was recently dubbed second team All-SEC by the media, Portis was left off most of the preseason lists, something Ephraim thinks is a shame.

"I know that (he's not getting the recognition he deserves)," Ephraim said. "It's duly noted. For what he does, and for the things he's done, nobody ever looks at him. It's like he's the silent assassin. It should bother him a lot, because he's a fifth year senior, but it doesn't. If it did, he wouldn't be out here working hard."

"But that's not the reason we play, we play for each other."


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