Alabama's Roy Upchurch Facing Uphill Battle To Make It in NFL
Larry Burton (Panama City Beach, Fla.) Roy Upchurch went undrafted in the recent picks, but has just been offered an invite to try out for the Baltimore Ravens. Coming out of high school many thought he would be a sure NFL pick. Instead, he's going to have to do it the hard way.
Things weren't supposed to be this way for Roy Upchurch. He was a high school star destined for greatness. He signed at Alabama where he could showcase his skill and power at running back, and then things just happened.
Things always seemed to happen to Roy to get in the way of his success and enjoyment of life.
It started in high school when as a star athlete, he should have been enjoying the limelight and spending his free time dating the cutest girls and partying the way high school kids do.
But Roy had a 71-year-old grandmother who needed help, and with all the other family members tied to responsibilities of their own families and children, Roy moved in and took care of his grandmother for the last 18 months of her life, getting up at four each morning to administer her medicines and start her day, then off to school, football practice, and then back to care for his grandmother.
It was a lot to put on a 17-year-old kid, but his mother said it was all Roy's idea and he wouldn't take no for an answer, it was what was best for the family.
Years later, Upchurch heard of a young boy who burned to death with his grandmother rather than leaving her alone when their home caught fire. He wore a bracelet honoring that young man because he understood that bond.
Roy came to Alabama where he was to be a star, but again, things happened.
After red shirting his first year, he had an ankle injury in his first year of playing time that held him back. That injury saw others climbing the depth chart ahead of him.
His sophomore year saw him third on the team in rushing, second in yards per carry, and his special teams play made him stand out. Maybe his junior year would be his break out year and finally be his time to shine.
His junior year was his best, but it was also the best year for a future NFL running back, Glenn Coffee. Still Upchurch had his moments and his yards per carry was among the highest in the country.
In typical Roy fashion, he accepted whatever role could best help his "family". This family being his team. Play special teams? OK. Play fullback instead of running back? OK. Fill a niche as a third down back? OK. Whatever helped the team.
"Everyone has a role to fill ." said Upchurch. "If they need me at fullback, then I'll do my best even though I don't know a lot about it. If it's just come in on third down to keep a drive alive, then I'll do that too. Anything that helps the team "
But still Roy showed his greatness, a 91 yard rushing game with a whopping 13 yards a carry average against Arkansas and an 86 yard total against Tennessee.
But this was the year of the neck injury and it kept him out of several games. Meanwhile a young Mark Ingram was working his way up the depth charts and into history.
His senior year might have been his showcase year, if not for the emergence of Mark Ingram, who won the Heisman Trophy that year and Trent Richardson who may be a future Heisman contender.
He still filled niches, still played special teams, and still averaged over six yards a carry. He was a man who could be counted on as well as looked up to. Though not a starter, he was a leader who helped keep the team focused and motivated.
"Roy has demonstrated a lot of leadership ," Saban said, "plays with a lot of effort, has great toughness, competitive character, has been fantastic and has done a great job in other areas of life, as well. "
And nowhere was that more evident than in his last Iron Bowl against Auburn. With the game on the line and time running out, Nick Saban himself called the play. He wanted the ball in Roy Upchurch's hands.
As quarterback Greg McElroy hurled the ball, there waiting for it in the end zone was the man who didn't get the big stats of the day, didn't accumulate the playing time, but won the game with his sure handed catch.
That is classic Roy Upchurch, whatever helps the family.
I had the chance to talk to Roy one last time at the Senior Bowl just a few month ago, when I covered it for Bleacher Report and he said, "I think I've impressed some scouts as much with my work ethic as with my ability. The fact that I've always been unselfish and done whatever, on special teams or as a receiver has helped make an impression on them. They told me just to keep working hard and somebody would take me ."
"My college career may not have gone the way I wanted it to, but I am grateful for the opportunities I had, the great coaching I got and the friends I will always have. I'm going to work hard at the next level and maybe that will be my time ," he finished.
That lucky team may be the Baltimore Ravens, where Roy is showing up as an undrafted free agent hoping to make the team. He will be re-united with his buddy Terrence (Mount) Cody.
The Ravens invited Upchurch to come and try out according to his agent Alvin Keels. They begin their mini camp this week and I wouldn't bet against Upchurch making the team.
Every "family" needs a Roy Upchurch, and the Ravens will be lucky to have him.
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