Monday, August 20, 2012
Listen and learn
By Alex Scarborough TideNation
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- His booming country accent carries the length of the football field, catching your ear the minute you walk through the gates. He's shouting again, the big kid from South Alabama, the happy-go-lucky offensive lineman with a smile as wide and easy as a backwoods creek.
D.J. Fluker is the Tide's top motivator when it comes to pushing through tough practices.
He's howling loudly now, jumping up and down around his teammates, his 6-foot-6, 335-pound frame threatening to dislodge the turf. In the middle of soul-crushing conditions -- you could roast a pig on the field goal post in this mid-summer heat -- the junior right tackle is like a kid playing around a broken fire hydrant, letting the joy wash over him.
He slaps his fellow linemen on the back and readies himself for another drill, giddy with excitement. His teammates nod and laugh, letting their firecracker burn.
D.J. Fluker, who came to Alabama more quiet than a church mouse, has become a sparkplug carrying the team through preseason camp. The soft-spoken football player has become what coach Nick Saban never imagined: An outspoken leader.
"He has really affected our offense in a positive way, not only with his performance but his enthusiasm, attention to detail and intensity," Saban said. "The way he goes about things and demands that people do it the same way, that's something that when he came here, I never thought would happen. But it certainly has, and it's a real positive for us."
Ask Fluker, and he's always been this way. It was just a matter of waiting for the right moment.
"I just didn't know when my time would come, like, to step up and say, 'Hey guys, let's get together,' " he explained.
Before, there were leaders like Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower and William Vlachos to take charge. With those players gone, Fluker saw an opening and figured, why not?
"I really didn't know when my time would come," Fluker said. "But now that I see the opportunity to get it, why not take advantage? Coach always says take advantage of the opportunities that are given to you. And also he always tell us anybody can lead a team. I take that to heed. He's right. Anybody can take that role."
Fluker took to it immediately. After one trying day of practice he came into the locker room and noticed players hanging their heads, ready to take a break and relax. He wasn't having any of it.
"I said, 'Look, let me tell y'all something: This is our team this year. We're going to define ourselves this year,' " Fluker said. "I said, 'Y'all, we're not having it this year. This is our team!' ... I told them that, and they believed it, and they came together with it.
"Energy rubs off on everybody. It's kind of like a virus, a little bit. It spreads everywhere."
Teammates have responded well to Fluker's newfound leadership. Running back Eddie Lacy laughed when he was asked to describe Fluker, calling him, "A big ball of energy -- a BIG ball of energy."
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"We come out to practice at camp, and there's days when you're just not feeling it, but once you get around Fluker and he gets that energy going, it's like a chain reaction, and next thing you know everybody's ready to go out and practice, all because of D.J. Fluker."
Michael Williams lines up alongside Fluker every day at tight end. Like Lacy, he has been impressed with Fluker's energy day in and day out.
"Everything he has, he's bringing it on the field and leaving it on the field, and it's an everyday thing," Williams said.
While there's no mistaking Fluker's boisterous nature on the football field, there's also no mistaking what kind of football player he is. Mel Kiper Jr. has him as the No. 6 player on his Big Board, the highest-rated lineman in the country. Even when Fluker was quiet, he stood out, the very picture of what a tackle is supposed to be. His mammoth hands and size 22 feet only begin to describe the kind of brute strength he was born with.
"D.J. is one of the most physical players we've ever had here or anywhere," Saban said. "He reminds me of Flozell Adams at Michigan State, way back when. He's big, he's physical, he works hard, he gets movement almost all the time."
Like his personality, Fluker's physical nature on the line has always been there. He's never been shy about hiding that.
"I mean, I wouldn't say I'm the most physical, but I get down with it," Fluker said. "I just go there and work hard. That's the main thing. If one guy sees you working hard, the rest of them are going to follow with you. If you're out there busting your tail every single play, the rest of them are going to fall in line right along with you. I got a high motor. I can't help that."