TDA: Were you always a fan of Alabama?
DR: Yeah, being from Alabama, you had to choose pretty early. Despite my family being Auburn fans, I decided to be an Alabama fan. It was always a dream to play for Alabama.
TDA: When did you start playing football?
DR: I started in 8th grade, I mainly played baseball growing up though I was really good and really loved playing that as well.
TDA: Why do you think so many colleges overlooked you? Who else besides Alabama gave you a serious look out of high school?
DR: Not sure, I probably wasn’t that good in high school. *laughter* UAB, Southern Miss, Miss St. Ole Miss were all schools that offered me. I wasn’t that 5-star player with all the accolades, I was told so many times I was too small and I just worked on my craft and it made me work even harder.
TDA: What was the transition from high school to college like for you?
DR: The transition was tough. Mainly the time management was easier. In high school, you’re at school during the day, and in college you get to set your schedule and the times you want to take your classes. You have a little more freedom and more responsibility. A big adjustment was just getting used to early classes and having night classes throughout the week. Just making sure you had things on point.
TDA: What was it like having the chance to play as a freshman?
DR: I played special teams mainly as a freshman and maybe about 15 snaps a game. Nowadays guys know they’re going to play as freshmen and getting on the field. It was an honor to get on the field as a freshman back then. Greg McClain and I were the only two guys from our class that played that year.
TDA: You played behind some great players like Brooks Daniels, how did that prepare you for the monster season you had in 2003?
DR: Watching those guys like Brooks, Cornelius Wortham, Freddie Roach, I just learned so much from them and looked up to them, so I didn’t want to let them down and I felt the pressure to perform. It makes you perform at a high level. It really drove me to succeed. Also, not playing so much your freshman year, once it was my time I really wanted to do a good job.
TDA: What was that first year in 2002 like and how it all ended?
DR: That first season hurt. Even though I knew we had sanctions, and earned the right to go to the SEC Championship but sanctions made us sit out and the whole thing with Coach Fran leaving was more of a bigger deal for the upcoming seniors because he told them he would stay. It was a weird time after he left, because we didn’t know who the coach was going to be.
After Price left it was like ‘What’s happening next?’ We knew we had a program, but we didn’t have a leader. The coach typically signifies the face of the program and we had nobody. We don’t have that identity that I grew up watching and cheering for like Gene Stallings roaming the sidelines and now I’m in a situation where it’s like, ‘Who’s the guy?’ The guys continued to work throughout and when Price came in we were kind of leery with the whole 5-wide deal and that’s not really Alabama football, but he brought a lot of excitement and energy. That spring was definitely the best spring I had and the most fun.
TDA: Players talk about Coach Kines and his influence especially during that time, how did he help you become a great player?
DR: The best thing Coach Price did was hire Coach Kines. He did keep everything together, and we had two coaches that left and wondering if we had to sit out a year if we left and transferred. He was that father figure that we needed. If it wasn’t for him, a lot of guys would have left.
TDA: What made you stay?
DR: What made me stay was something that Coach (Carl) Torbush said when I was recruited. He said, “You make a commitment to the school and not to a coach.” As a man, you make a commitment and you stick to the commitment you made. I thought about leaving for maybe a split second but I knew I made a commitment to the University of Alabama and not to a particular coach.
TDA: What was it about Alabama that made you commit despite the sanctions and penalties they were under?
DR: I knew we would be on probation and i considered it a challenge and a privilege being considered to get one of those limited spots and i knew it would be a challenge rebuilding.
TDA: When did you know you had a chance to be a really good player at Alabama?
DR: By my Junior year. The game started to slow down for me and I thought then I could really be a good player. Reports started coming out about me possibly leaving early and I wasn’t even thinking about that.
TDA: You used to take 22 & 21 credit hours. How important was academics to you that made you work so hard at it?
DR: During those early years, I started out majoring in electrical engineering, it actually just happened that way, it wasn’t planned really. Education was always important to me because no one in my immediate family graduated from a four-year university. I really wanted to set the example and that drove me to push myself on the academic side.
TDA: What is something many people don’t know about you?
DR: I’ve preached a sermon before.
TDA: How was that like?
DR: *Laugther* It wasn’t too bad.
TDA: Talk about that 2005 team and defense.
DR: That was the best year there man. We all just grew up as a defense and we finally felt like we were good enough to finally make a run and that was our year. Coach Kines was driving us on defense and we had really good coaches. Our practices were really intense and we wanted to be the top defense in college football and it showed. We wanted to be a dominating defense. The past teams left their mark and we wanted to etch our names in the history books and we were on a nice run for those first nine games and just fell short those last two games.
TDA: How does it feel going those years and not beating Auburn?
DR: It always haunts me. Always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Every time I think about it, it makes me mad. That’s one reason you go to Alabama is to beat Auburn. To me, that may be where our legacy may have fallen short was to not get that done.
TDA: What was the best game you played in at Alabama?
DR: The 2005 Florida game.
TDA: What was that feeling like getting drafted with the first pick in the second round by the Houston Texans?
DR: It was like a big sigh of relief. It was a great feeling of excitement. All of my family was going crazy, but I was just relieved, I thought I would be going earlier, but just that feeling was great. It was a major accomplishment I will always remember.
TDA: How was that transition like?
DR: Football wise it was pretty easy. The biggest adjustment was dealing with the money. Being a broke college student and now having money to do what you want to do and just having another step in responsibility and making sure you’re doing the right things. You have the resources now and the money available and just being wise with it.
TDA: Character has always been your calling card. How has that helped you in your career?
DR: I think it’s benefited me by allowing me to stick around. This is now my 10th year in the league, coaches can depend on me to do the right things, and its stuck with me and allowed me to play as long as I’ve played. On the field and off the field being responsible. Coaches don’t have to stay up worrying about me.
TDA: How does it make you feel to see the success Alabama is having now knowing guys like you helped lay the foundation for what we’re seeing today?
DR: It makes me feel proud and responsible knowing I did something right and it meant something to me and those freshmen like Antoine Caldwell and others. To see them grow into the men and leaders and excel with Coach Saban was great to see. Our time was kind of like the lost years, but within those four years, we were up and down and back up again. We left the program in a really good place from losing scholarships and not having bowl games and I’m excited to see what they have. Every time they’re on TV I’m watching it. That’s the reputation. In the locker room now, guys can’t talk bad about Alabama now! *laughter*