You don’t want to make Evan Neal angry. Unless, of course, it’s on the football field.
But getting on the 6-foot-7, 350-pound left tackle’s bad side is not a wise decision.
The junior from Okeechobee, Florida, gets fired up in the locker room and for someone who doesn’t know Neal, it can be intimidating.
“For freshmen he is,” Alabama senior right tackle Chris Owens said. ‘I’m sure they look at him like, ‘Whoa.’ He’s a huge guy with a really deep voice. I know Evan and how he is. When you talk to Evan, he’s just like everybody else.”
That’s because Owens has gotten to know Neal for a few years now, on the field an off. It’s the same with all the offensive linemen.
About two weeks before fall camp starts the offensive line takes a trip to Soggy Bottom Lodge, an out-of-the-way place about an hour and a half south of Tuscaloosa.
“It’s a place where we can just get away,” said junior right guard Emil Ekiyor. “It’s a place where we eat a lot of food, play video games, do some hunting, fishing, and just get to know each other better.”
That’s the key to the whole trip. When you are in the middle of nowhere in south Alabama with no internet service, you kind of have to talk to each other.
“At some point in the trip you get isolated with someone you don’t normally talk with, and you interact,” Owens said. “You get to know someone better and maybe learn something about their life and what makes them tick.”
That bonding time has paid off so far this season. The offensive line is a close-knit group that’s almost like a brotherhood.
“When we get on the field together it makes it easier to trust one another, and communicate with each other,” Owens said.
The Crimson Tide offensive line has a strong relationship with one another, and the line also has an abundance of depth. Alabama lost two starters to the NFL off last year’s group, which won the Joe Moore Award for the best offensive line.
This year’s Alabama line hasn’t missed a beat, plugging in new players and rotating others across the line.
That’s nothing new. Alabama’s depth chart usually has several players listed at multiple spots.
“We’ve shuffled a lot of people around,” said Owens, who can also play center. “(Offensive line) coach (Doug) Marrone wants everyone to be versatile. We want to have as many people play winning football as possible and who can play as many positions as possible. We want to make sure all offensive linemen can play every position.”
Neal, Ekiyor and Owens are the seasoned veterans of the 2021 offensive line. With that experience comes leadership. Owens and Ekiyor both agreed Neal is the most vocal leader on the linemen.
“Evan Neal for sure,” Ekiyor said. “If the offensive line is having a bad day he’s going to be the one that gets everybody going in the right direction.”
Ekiyor is more of a hands-on leader who also leads by example. The Indianapolis native wants to be the guy who has the answers
“I’m someone who the young guys can come to if they have any questions about anything. I want to help them in any way and try to lead by example and show them what it’s like to be an offensive lineman at Alabama.”
Owens doesn’t get vocal. Like Ekiyor, he leads by example. He also likes to interact one-on-one to get his point across to his teammates.
“Just have a conversation,” Owens said. “On the field I’m not one of the loudest. In the locker room I’m probably one of the loudest. That’s what works with me.”