TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was business as usual for Rob Ezell late in a blowout win.
Line up wide and block, block, block as Alabama ran the ball and the clock late Thursday night.
Most of Bryant-Denny Stadium had emptied, television viewership plummeted with little intrigue left in Alabama’s 63-7 pounding of Georgia State.
Then, for some unknown reason, Ezell was summoned back to the sideline.
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“Coach Saban just looks at me and says ‘Take off your gloves,’” Ezell remembers hearing. “‘You’re going in next play at quarterback.’”
Momentarily stunned, Ezell never considered getting that opportunity regardless of the game circumstances.
He is, after all, a folk hero of Alabama football followers who gained fame with his spot-on impression of Saban aired on ESPN’s “All Access” program in August then went viral on the web.
A record-setting state champion quarterback at Athens High School, the 5-foot-10, 172-pound Ezell was converted to a wide receiver when he walked on at Alabama four years ago. He’ll occasionally line up behind the center with the scout team in practice, but never under the lights and in front of a national television audience.
“It was the most nervous I’ve ever been trying to get a snap,” Ezell said. “I can’t tell you the last time I was taking a snap from under the center.”
He threw no passes, just handed off a few times.
But he was back in the position of leading the offense just as he did as a high school star. Saban said Ezell never asked for the opportunity but he earned it.
“He’s been a guy that’s been a spiritual leader on the team in a lot of ways,” Saban said. “The players really like him. We take him on all the trips. He’s really an inspirational guy. He’s one of those hustle guys -- a Charlie Hustle guy in practice trying to do anything he can to help the team any way he can. So it was really more our idea to sort of reward him and reinforce all that he’s done by letting him play and so something that he enjoyed the opportunity to be able to do.”
Though he’d played in just three games entering his senior season, Ezell was one of only two walk-ons given a full profile in this season’s media guide along with junior defensive back Kyle Pennington. And through 10 games, his only action came late in the 41-10 win at Tennessee on Oct. 23.
But with a blowout assured against Georgia State, Ezell was a lock to play Thursday night.
He just didn’t know he’d be taking snaps.
A coach in training, Ezell had no issue understanding and calling the plays when he was the one talking in the huddle. Some of his fellow wide receivers “were a little shocked” he said to see him take over.
He handed off a few times to Nick Tinker in a few basic running plays. After a fourth-and-four run covered just three yards, Ezell ran down field errantly signaling first down.
So when he returned to the sideline, starting quarterback Greg McElroy had a few words for his unsuspecting replacement.
“Greg said something about my bootleg wasn’t very good and carrying out my fake,” Ezell said with a smile. “(Receivers coach Curt) Cignetti was talking about communication has to get better. But it was all in good fun. It was a good night for us.”
Second-string quarterback AJ McCarron said he enjoyed every minute watching Ezell out there.
“As goofy as he is, I wouldn’t be surprised if he checked to a pass,” a laughing McCarron said. “I’m glad he just did what coach said.”
Lest we forget, Ezell made a name for himself by mimicking a passionate post-practice Saban speech in front of a national television audience.
“Coach Saban, he forgave me the first time,” Ezell said in his first interview room appearance since the impression went global. “He was riding me for a long time, if I tried to do it again He said he thought I did a pretty good job of it. He kind of told me, ‘I’m thinking about riding you,’ I think he was just trying to mess with me a little bit. Me and him kind of went back and forth on it. It was fun. I think he really enjoyed it. But it’s one of those things that’s going to stay in the locker room from here on out.”
That won’t be much longer now.
As a senior, Ezell will suit up in Bryant-Denny Stadium one final time Friday against Auburn and after the bowl game, his playing days will come to an end.
Looking back, it’s been a good run regardless of playing time.
“I made a goal when I was a player here that when I get done, I want to be the kind of player that I felt coach Bryant would be proud of. I think when you want to be that kind of player, it comes with being a teammate and being a leader no matter what your role is on the team. You’re always out there supporting your friends and fighting hard and it’s real rewarding too. It’s great being there at the games experiencing the thrill of Saturdays in the fall.”
For Ezell, the greatest joy came late on a Thursday night that he won’t soon forget.