SPRINGFIELD, Ohio-- The moment had arrived.
The crowd had quieted.
(No small feat, considering this downtown Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant had to have passed "suggested capacity" long, long ago.)
With impatient fans standing on stools to get a better view, a horde of media members holding cameras or cell phones at the ready, and breathless anticipation reigning throughout the building, it was time for coveted linebacker recruit Trey DePriest to announce where he would play football in the fall of 2011.
Or so we thought.
"Everybody want to eat first?" DePriest asked the masses with a chuckle.
Apparently, judging from the reaction his innocent question received, they did not.
(On the bright side, at least Jim Gray wasn't there to ask how many people already knew DePriest's choice or if he bites his nails.)
Thankfully, mercifully, this Ohio version of "The Decision" wasn't drawn out longer than it needed to be. DePriest thanked God, his coaches, teammates, family, and those in attendance for coming, and then got down to business.
Verdict: The University of Alabama.
I expected DePriest to head south, so that didn't surprise me. What did catch me off-guard was how positive the reaction was.
Obviously, the building was jammed with family and friends, so whatever school DePriest picked, the news would be good. But at the same time, Springfield is the heart of Buckeye country (Ohio State football is closer to a religion than a pastime here), and I had braced myself for DePriest's choice of 'Bama over the Bucks to be met with at least a smattering of boos.
I didn't hear any.
Instead, the restaurant burst into wild cheers at the news that their beloved hometown son was headed to Tuscaloosa next year to play for the defending national champions.
"If anybody deserves this, it's Trey," Orbie Estep, one of DePriest's longtime friends, told me. "He has a great work ethic, it's always 'yes sir, no sir' with him...he's just a good kid."
(After watching DePriest take the microphone to apologize to his sister because one of his visits to Alabama forced him to miss her graduation party, this perspective didn't surprise me in the least.)
Even childhood buddy and future Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller took the microphone to congratulate DePriest on his choice. "I'm happy for him," said Miller after hearing that his former teammate would not be accompanying him to Columbus.
(The fans obviously agreed, as it was about that time when the first "Roll Tide" chant broke out.)
DePriest, for one, just seemed happy to have the matter resolved.
"I never let it affect my focus," he told me a few minutes after informing the crowd of his pick. "Now it's not going to be on my mind at all."
The soon-to-be high school senior said he was equally excited and relieved, and is looking forward to returning to Alabama to attend the game against Florida on October 2nd.
"It's where I was most comfortable," DePriest said of picking Tuscaloosa over Columbus. "That's where it was at."
All in all, DePriest and the Tide seem to be a great fit for each other. The playmaking linebacker has the speed, talent, and instincts to make an impact at the next level...and who knows-maybe the level beyond that? (DePriest's announcement specifically talked about spending "three or four years" in SEC country -- heads up, NFL talent-evaluators.)
Oh, and if today was any sign, don't be surprised if every resident of Springfield, Ohio owns an Alabama t-shirt by the time DePriest suits up for Nick Saban...I barely recognized our waitress when she finally returned to our table after the press conference, since the entire restaurant staff had donned brand-new Crimson Tide apparel once DePriest's choice became official.
No doubt about it, there are plenty of new Alabama fans in this small town 45 miles from Columbus.
I guess you could say the Tide has turned?
photo of Trey DePriest (July 30, 2010) by Tim Cary
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