LSU took a 17-14 lead at the start of the fourth quarter last Saturday night in Death Valley. It was the first time No. 1 Alabama had trailed in the second half of a game since losing to Auburn in 2010. But there were still 12 minutes to play. The Crimson Tide had plenty of time to make a comeback and there would be no heads hanging or finger nail biting—not on D.J. Fluker's watch.
At that moment, the 6-foot-6, 335-pound right tackle marched up and down the sideline, pumping up every player.
"I told them they got to believe," he said, emphatically. "You can't base it off, ‘They scored, OK. Well, you can't hang your head. You can't be like we lost the game. You have to keep the faith.' Coach [Nick Saban] always talks about that. You've got to believe in what you're doing. I told everyone that—and it happened."
Leadership was a critical component to Alabama's dire victory in the most hostile of environments. From McCarron to wide receiver Kevin Norwood to center Barrett Jones to cornerback Dee Milliner, several players showed it in those dwindling minutes.
But Fluker was and is always the most vocal.
"He brings the energy to everybody—defense, offense, special teams," said left guard Chance Warmack. "If it's a sluggish practice, he's going to be the one yelling and keeping everyone upbeat. I've seen him grow. He's a true leader."
Fluker and Warmack are best friends. They room together on the road, eat together at Krispy Kreme—when the new store opened on McFarland earlier this season, Warmack joked Fluker was probably first in line.
Warmack said that when the two are cooped up in their hotel room the night before a game, Fluker watches motivational movies "to get himself right."
"His favorite quote is, ‘Get your mind right,'" Warmack said.
And he's got the whole team saying it now. In fact, the two offensive linemen made a little song with those words as the only lyrics. The players will nod their heads and get the whole team chanting, ‘Get your mind right…Get your mind right' during flex at practice.
"Everybody gets into it, it gets everybody cranked up," Warmack said. "[Fluker] is bar none the best I can come up with as far as getting everyone upbeat."
Fluker had one of the most outstanding games of his career against the Tigers. Matched up against probable first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo for 60 minutes, the defensive end only posted two tackles and didn't get anywhere close to touching McCarron.
On the left side, tackle Cyrus Kouandjio played the game of his life, too, blocking Sam Montgomery, who he called a "grown man off the edge." The two showed their athleticism and strength outside against what's likely the best pass-rush in the country.
Once the game was won, Fluker and Kouandjio found each other in the Alabama end zone and caught some major air as they high-fived and shoulder-bumped to congratulate each other on a job well done.
When Fluker comes in for media interviews, he's the biggest teddy bear you ever saw. The largest and most imposing athlete on Alabama's roster, Fluker is all smiles, laughs and giggles when talking to reporters. And after answering questions, no matter if there are five reporters or 25 present, Fluker shakes every single person's hand and says ‘Thank you.' His manners are refreshing.
Earlier this season, running back Eddie Lacy described Fluker as a "big ball of energy."
"There are days when you're just not feeling it," Lacy said. "But once you get around Fluker and he gets that energy going, it's like a chain reaction."
Saban has called Fluker one of the most physical players he's coached since Flozell Adams at Michigan State. When Fluker was asked his thoughts on the comparison, he laughed.
"I wouldn't say I'm the most physical, but I get down with it," he said. "I just go out there and work hard. That's the main thing. If you're out there busting your tail every single play, the rest of the team is going to fall in line with you. I got a high motor. I can't help that."
Saban said that this enthusiasm and leadership is something new from Fluker and frankly, not something that he expected, despite him being a junior.
But his personality has been an important part to building camaraderie and chemistry on Alabama's stout offensive line, which has brought together five completely different types of guys—Kouandjio the young and wise one, Warmack the strong and hungry one, Jones the mellow and focused one, Anthony Steen the humble and country one, and Fluker the emotional and passionate one—and turned them into one cohesive unit that is one of—if not the—nation's best.
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