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In Sideline Moment, Nick Saban and Bryce Young Display the Humanity of College Football

While societal pressure impacts each and every one of us on a daily basis, Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young has handled that pressure admirably on a much larger stage.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Throughout sports, glimpses of moments caught on camera have always had a way of shedding light on the humanity of athletes and coaches. Regardless of the team or sport, fans elevate those involved in the game up onto a pedestal and place them into positions with immense pressure. 

While there is certainly some merit to that, at the end of the day it's sometimes easy to forget that those idols are still human. Sometimes, it takes one of those aforementioned moments to remind us of players' and coaches' humanity.

For Alabama football, one such moment occurred during last week's broadcast of the Crimson Tide's homecoming game versus the Tennessee Volunteers. During ESPN's broadcast of the game, a conversation shared between head coach Nick Saban and starting quarterback Bryce Young was caught.

While the exchange was brief and it remains unclear as to what was said, the video showed the duo inches apart as Saban instructed his quarterback following one of Alabama’s drives.

While speaking to the media ahead of an engagement with the Monday Morning Quarterback Club at the Harbert Center in Birmingham, Saban provided insight on the conversation, explaining that he was talking Young down after a moment of frustration.

“He’s an easy guy to coach,” Saban said. “He tries to do everything the right way. He wants to do everything the right way. He always prepares well for the game. He’s got a great personality. He’s got really good leadership qualities about him. It’s really important to him to sort of be the best that he can be, which you always love in competitors, you always love in players.”

While Young hasn’t displayed much frustration on the field during his eight games as the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback, Saban has noted on multiple occasions that Young has exhibited a variety of levels of frustration on the sidelines. Having high expectations for one’s performance is something that most people can relate to. While most don’t ever have to perform on a stage as large as primetime college football, it’s still a relatable struggle that even gets to people with as much influence as Young has on his team.

Saban sees moments like last Saturday’s as learning opportunities for his young quarterback.

“Sometimes you just need to talk about things,” Saban said. “Bryce is always really perceptive to that because he’s one of those guys who’s never defensive about any corrections because he really takes it like we like people to in terms of using that experience, or that failure even, as an opportunity to grow and get better.”

In recent years, the landscape of college football has changed to a monumental degree. New transfer rules allow players to change schools at the drop of a hat, while Name, Image and Likeness deals create even more distractions off the field.

Pressure for players to perform has been around for as long as a pigskin has been thrown around in a grassy field, but with the new microscope of society constantly scrutinizing every move a player makes via the lens of social media, the pressure can understandably become too much at times.

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And with NIL, the pressure of living up to sponsors’ standards simply makes that pressure even higher.

On Monday, Saban noted that while it might be some time before we see how the changes to college football have impacted the sport, the lens of scrutiny still remains tightly focused on players. The pressure can have an impact on not only the players’ approach to the game but his approach to coaching as well.

“I don’t know that we have a great enough body of work to this point to know if these changes … to what degree do they really impact players,” Saban said. “I think the players get affected — maybe some players, I should say — get affected way more than I would like by external factors. Whether it’s media, what’s written, what’s said. Because these guys — everybody is always on their phone. You walk around campus, it’s not just the players. It’s everybody. People running into trees because they’re looking at their phone. You start to believe what you read.

“And sometimes that’s not really the reality — especially when you’re in a competition — and if that affects your ability to prepare, the intensity that you play with when you go to the game, then that’s something that you really have to be careful of with your team and your players that this is not impacting them in a way that affects preparation or their intensity on game day.”

With Young being one of the top players at his position and idolized by many, it’s easy to forget that he is still a 20-year-old who suffers from the same pressures that everyday people experience on a daily basis. As stated earlier, the stage for Young is considerably larger, though, and with that comes pressure that many might not be able to handle.

That being said, Saban is fully confident that his young quarterback is fully capable of handling the pressure that comes his way on a daily basis.

“I think he’s done a really good job, and I haven’t seen it affect his performance, his preparation,” Saban said. “He’s one of those guys that’s focused on the right stuff. He understands that his value is created by performance, and he’s focused on his performance.

“And players should come to Alabama to want to win a championship and create value for themselves, and the smart ones know that they create value for themselves with how they perform and that none of those things really should be a factor relative to all that.”

While it might have looked like a simple moment shared between a football coach and his quarterback on the sideline of Saturday's homecoming game, there's so much more to that story. On one side, you have an experienced coach passing on valuable wisdom and soothing his star player that has the pressure of hundreds of thousands of fans — not to mention his teammates — resting on his shoulders.

On the other side, you have a young man trying to, as Saban would say, create value for himself and taking heed of every word passed down from his coach.

Societal pressure impacts us all, and Young has handled it admirably. It can be easy to see those placed in positions of authority or those considered experts in their craft through the lens that society provides us to view them through. However, if you take a step back and examine things with your own eyes rather than through that filter, the image of humanity in people like Saban and Young becomes much clearer.