By WILL HIGHTOWER
Nick Saban was furious. As he paced the Vlachos’ living room, Saban mulled over his situation. He had been hired to coach a disgraced Alabama team back to glory, and he had a specific “process” in mind.
And William Vlachos, Saban determined, had no part in it. Saban spoke of grayshirting the 6-foot, one-inch, 294-pound center, whom Mike Shula had recruited but Saban thought was too small.
“To be honest, Saban didn’t want him,” Mountain Brook High School football coach Chris Yeager said. “He wanted to figure out a way to get rid of him. When Saban came to visit William at his house, I felt like he really tried to get him to decommit because of his size.”
Of course, that was then. This is now.
These days, Vlachos is a three-year, all-SEC starter for the Crimson Tide, looking to win his second national championship on January 9 vs. LSU. Saban, who did indeed bring Alabama back to glory, has relied heavily on the Mountain Brook graduate to open holes for the likes of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
After New Orleans, Vlachos could become the first Spartan to play in the NFL since Major Ogilvie, especially after the recognition he received as a Rimington Trophy finalist, awarded to the top centers in the nation.
Yeager remembered seeing Vlachos as a boy at Mountain Brook football camps:
“He would come to our camps; I remember he was only about four feet tall. We would give out popsicles, and he would have red popsicle all over his shirt and he’d hang out with me the whole time. And he would say, ‘I want to play offensive line in the NFL.’ We all laughed at that then. But one thing he’s taught us is that you don’t laugh at people’s goals and dreams.”
Throughout junior high and high school, Vlachos worked tirelessly at improving his technique, knowing that he would have to overcome his stature if he wanted to achieve his goals.
“When he was in seventh grade, I gave him some foot drills to do,” Yeager said. “It didn’t matter if it was raining outside, snowing, lightning, he was out there doing those drills in seventh and eighth grade. He was extremely focused.”
Vlachos’ senior year at Mountain Brook saw the center attain high honors. Rivals.com ranked him as the number nine center nationally, and he was named 6A All-State.
Then came the issue with Saban. Vlachos had gone to camps across the country and was “whipping five-star defensive linemen,” as Yeager put it. Yet Saban still wasn’t a fan. The pivotal moment came in a Marriott in Tallahassee.
“So William and I go down to Florida State, who had offered him,” Yeager said. “We were at the Marriott the day before we were going to talk with Coach Bowden, and he asked me what he should do. And I told him that I didn’t think they wanted him at Alabama. And he said back, ‘I’m going to make them want me.’”
However difficult the recruiting process was, Vlachos ended up in Tuscaloosa in 2008, ready for his first season of college football. Although he was redshirted freshman year, he went on to start the next three, including playing in Pasadena at the 2009 National Championship.
This season has been his coming-out party, though. He earned preseason all-SEC first team honors, and was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week twice for the wins over Florida and Auburn. He was later named all-SEC first team and a finalist for the prestigious Rimington Trophy.
Yeager acknowledged that the general opinion on Vlachos is that he is the best center in the country next to Ben Jones of Georgia. That means the NFL is waiting.
“I’ve had a few guys that I’ve coached elsewhere that have gone to the NFL, and the traffic we are getting is very similar,” Yeager said. “This is exceptional traffic. The Colts seem to line up well to pick him, and the Seahawks, Raiders, and Redskins have all called.”
The consensus on Vlachos is that he will be picked anywhere from the third to fifth round in the draft in April. As a three-year SEC starter, going up daily in practice against Marcell Dareus and Terrence Cody, Vlachos seems like a safe pick to succeed if teams can get over his height. But for now, his focus is on a certain date in early January.