The Alabama Crimson Tide entered the 2012 season looking much different than the team that won the 2011 BCS national title. Among other changes, the Tide was not going to place the weight of its entire ground game on just one man, a la Mark Ingram or Trent Richardson in previous seasons. Head coach Nick Saban came into this season knowing that the ground attack would be a team effort. Freshman Kenyan Drake was not an immediate part of that plan.
Juniors Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler were slated to lead the Alabama ground game, getting relief from incoming freshman T.J. Yeldon and redshirt freshman Dee Hart when needed. The plan was working just fine, especially with the impressive start from Yeldon, until Fowler was lost for the season due to an injury suffered in the Western Kentucky game.
This left the Tide with just three regular ball carriers, none of whom really fit the bill of feature back. The hole left by the absence of Fowler has been filled by freshman Kenyan Drake.
Drake comes to the Capstone from Powder Springs, Georgia, where he was a four-star recruit and earned Super 11 honors from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. At Hillgrove High School, Drake ran for 1,610 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior while averaging 9.2 yards per carry. Drake also scored seven other touchdowns via pass receptions and kickoff returns and won the AAAAA state track championship in the 100-meter run.
Drake got just one carry in the season opener against Michigan and then one more against Western Kentucky, a 32-yard touchdown dash down the left sideline. Against Arkansas, Drake gathered 57 yards and another score on just six carries. This past week he tallied the only rushing touchdown of the day while picking up 35 yards on five touches.
The man who entered the season as the fifth tailback on the depth chart now finds himself third on the team in rushing yards. He is second in touchdowns with three, has the second longest carry of the season (32 yards), and leads the team in yards per attempt with 9.7 yards per carry.
Yes, it is likely that Drake will see his playing time slip as the conference schedule gets into full swing next week, and he is still expected to fall behind Dee Hart on the depth chart. Still, Drake has made a little bit of a name for himself around the Alabama campus and is just one unfortunate injury away from finding himself right in the middle of the Alabama offensive game plan.
The freshman who garnered relatively little attention from the national media, at least by Alabama standards, when he signed with the Tide back in February, has quickly made his way into the rotation. While the loss of Fowler was certainly an unfortunate one, Kenyan Drake has been the silver lining to this cloud.
Whether or not he continues to get regular carries this year, or has to wait until his turn comes somewhere down the road, Kenyan Drake has earned the respect of his teammates, his coaches, and his fans in just four games at Alabama. When his time truly comes, there is little doubt that Drake will make a name for himself in the SEC and national spotlights as well.
Once again, Nick Saban appears to have struck recruiting gold.