University of Alabama

Alabama linebacker Keith Holcombe inspires teammates

Western Kentucky wide receiver Kylen Towner, center, is tackled by Alabama linebacker Keith Holcombe, left, and Alabama defensive back Rogria Lewis during the first half of a game on Sept. 10.
Western Kentucky wide receiver Kylen Towner, center, is tackled by Alabama linebacker Keith Holcombe, left, and Alabama defensive back Rogria Lewis during the first half of a game on Sept. 10. AP

The statement caught a few people off guard, but then again surprise has been a big part of Alabama sophomore linebacker Keith Holcombe’s game these days.

At 6-foot-4, 227 pounds, Holcombe perfectly fits the mold of a defender in Alabama’s new slimmed-down defense. Even he admits, he probably isn’t the most intimidating looking person when he steps on the field.

That’s why defensive lineman Jonathan Allen’s statement shocked a few people Tuesday.

“He has a ton of energy,” Allen said of Holcombe. “He flies around to the ball. He can hit just as good as Reuben (Foster).”

Wait, that Reuben Foster?

The same Foster who terrorizes opposing offenses on a weekly basis? The same Foster who revealed Tuesday that he gave himself a black eye from hitting Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly too hard in Week 3?

“I don’t know about that,” Holcombe said. “Reuben’s a freak of an athlete. I try to hit as hard as him, but if I do that, I might break my body in half.”

While the sophomore remains modest, his numbers so far this season are not. Holcombe is tied with Allen for fourth on the team with 14 tackles this season. Earlier this week, Holcombe was recognized as one of the team’s players of the week after recording six tackles in the Crimson Tide’s 48-0 win against Kent State.

Only Foster had more with seven.

“Keith, he’s a whole ’nother animal,” Foster said. “He’s just got one speed. He motivates me. He’s got one speed. He don’t let nothing get him down. I’ve never seen someone like that.”

That’s pretty high praise coming from Foster, a player who likens his own lean and fast approach on the field to a Ferrari. When asked what car Holcombe would be, Foster paused for a second, squinting his eyes in thought.

“I give him a Maybach,” Foster said laughing. “(He’s) kind of fancy.”

If that’s the case, consider the eye black Holcombe smears over his face to be a fresh new paint job each week.

“Growing up, my dad said, ‘If you look good, you play good,’ so that’s a little bit of a thing I like to carry, just a little bit of eye black,” Holcombe said. “I mean I’m not the biggest guy, so I gotta improve on my intimidation factor.”

The eye black is also a carryover from Holcombe’s time on the baseball diamond. Playing as a dual-sport athlete at Alabama, opposing offenses aren’t the only thing he hits hard for the Tide.

Spending most of his time in left field last season, Holcombe ranked third on the team with a .279 batting average. While the two sports help keep Holcombe constantly in good shape, he said playing both can be taxing at times.

“It’s a little challenging, but I understood what I was getting into when I signed up for it,” Holcombe said. “So I’m just blessed to have the opportunity to do it here at the university.”

Playing multiple sports is just one thing Holcombe’s body has had to overcome early in his career. The linebacker/ outfielder was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 9 years old.

While the diagnosis can be tough for him athletically, Holcombe has never used it as an excuse and is determined not to let it slow him down on the field. Even from a young age, it never has.

“He was 9 years old when he got diagnosed, and I think three days later he went out and pitched in an all-star tournament,” said Max Holcombe, Keith’s older brother. “He never let his condition hinder what he wanted to do. I really respect him for that.”

Growing up in Tuscaloosa as the son of former Alabama football player Danny Holcombe, there is nothing Keith Holcombe wanted to do more than play ball for the Tide. He’ll get that chance Saturday night as the Tide takes on Kentucky at 7 p.m. in Bryant-Denny Stadium for its homecoming game.

“It’s fun going out there just flying around to the ball, feeling like you’re a little kid again, what you’ve always dreamed of doing,” Holcombe said. “That’s what they recruited me to come here and do, and that’s why I’m trying to fulfill that.”

You can write to Tony at ttsoukalas@annistonstar.com

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