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Nick Saban, Alabama turns to LB Keith Holcombe to help anchor its season

Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

For a program that is facing much adversity on the field, it could not be scripted any better than having it turn to an individual who has faced hardships throughout life to guide the team. 

National media, Alabama football beat writers and supporters of the school all voice their concerns on the Crimson Tide being decimated at linebacker; however, this is a spot where Tuscaloosa native Keith Holcombe has dreamed of being in since his arrival in 2014. 

A product of Hillcrest High School, Holcombe never took a play off during his two seasons under head coach Scott Martin. As a senior, he earned a high four-star rating after posting 128 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception. He was a member of the ESPN 300 recruiting database – No. 281 – and his style of play viewed him as a “throwback” guy for Alabama, regardless of having to battle with type one diabetes since he was nine years old.  

Holcombe’s father, Danny Holcombe, knows about being a winner as he played for the institution’s most revered name, Paul W. “Bear” Bryant. He was a part of Bryant’s final Tide squad in 1982, helping the bunch obtain an 8-4 record and win the Liberty Bowl over Illinois. 

Nick Saban was neither given an animal nickname nor made a houndstooth hat a fashion statement; nevertheless, he commands more attention than Bryant and he’s the one Keith Holcombe expects to prove himself the most to.

He has been nothing short of remarkable on special teams and served admirably as Shaun Dion Hamilton’s backup, but for the first time Alabama looks to a reserve to emerge in a moment where its playoff hopes are on the line. 

Toughness is all Holcombe knows, and in his two games starting this season, the redshirt junior certainly held his own.

He accounts for 30 tackles – including two for loss with three pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. In looking very assured of himself, Holcombe told the press during his interview period on Tuesday that he knows he can play and that he is comfortable. 

Not being one to doubt his guys, Saban confirmed Holcombe’s words on Wednesday. 

“He’s been in the system a long time and we have a lot of confidence in him,” he said of Holcombe in the Southeastern Conference’s Coaches Teleconference. “He understands the system and knows what to do. He can be a signal-caller for us.” 

From viewing the idea of coming to Alabama as a dream to now having an opportunity in showcasing his leadership on the field, Holcombe has taken this week of practice in stride. 

He is ready to line up at inside linebacker and anticipates limiting the big plays of Mississippi State’s quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and the rest of the Bulldogs offense in Starkville, Miss. 

Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @Smsmith_TDALMag.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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