DePriest starting for Alabama as sophomore

DePriest was the face of the Wildcats from 2008-2010, a star on both sides of the ball who helped make the team a winner and a two-time playoff participant in the first years after the North-South merger. His signing with Alabama in 2010 — and not going to Ohio State with his friend and fellow Springfield native Braxton Miller — before his senior year was the biggest local sports story of the year.

Alabama freshmen aren’t allowed to give interviews, according to head coach Nick Saban’s rules, but now DePriest is a sophomore, and he’s starting at linebacker. The News-Sun caught up with him on Wednesday.

“I love it a lot,” DePriest said. “The guys down here are great. The coaches are great. Everyone’s been buying into what the coaches are teaching. We lost a lot of guys coming into this year, but everyone has stepped up.”

DePriest had seven tackles (four solo, three assists) in Alabama’s 41-14 season-opening victory over Michigan. Slowed by a sprained ankle against Western Kentucky last Saturday, he had one solo tackle and an assist in a 35-0 victory.

“He’s very instinctive,” Saban told the Dothan Eagle in August. “He’s a good space player. He makes less and less mistakes because he has better knowledge and experience, so he’s a more effective player.”

DePriest looks nothing like the kid who left Springfield in early 2011 after graduating from high school early. He was always big and strong, but now he’s bigger and stronger. His weight hasn’t changed much since his senior year. He was listed at 237 pounds then, and he’s 245 now.

But all those hours in the weight room have made a difference. DePriest looks NFL big — and the big head of hair, not the buzz cut he had in high school gives him a different look, too.

“A lot of people think you’ve got it made, but they don’t realize how much work goes into this,” DePriest said. “They don’t see what we do behind the scenes, as far as camp and spring ball. They think it’s all fun and games, but it’s tough. You’ve got to suck it up.”

One of the biggest benefits of playing for Alabama, DePriest said, is learning an NFL style defense. Three Alabama defensive players were taken in the first round of the NFL draft last spring, including the 25th overall pick, Dont’a Hightower, who DePriest backed up last year.

DePriest played mostly special teams as a freshman, but appeared in all 13 games and made 25 tackles — a team-high 14 on special teams. He made the first tackle on the opening kickoff of the BCS Championship game, a 21-0 victory over LSU.

“I really can’t even explain that experience,” DePriest said. “Playing in that game was incredible.”

This could be just the start for DePriest. If Alabama’s tradition of sending players to the NFL is any indication, some of his best days in the years ahead could come on Sundays.

“I feel like that’s every college athlete’s dream, to play in the NFL,” DePriest said. “All the work you put in, you don’t want it to end.”

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