TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The fact that Arie Kouandjio is back on the football field is remarkable, surprising even. Multiple injuries have stymied the offensive lineman's young career, sending more road blocks than shortcuts his way in three years at Alabama.
The former top-15 guard out of high school played in two games last season before a knee injury required surgery and forced him to miss the rest of the year. A setback during rehabilitation kept him from participating in spring practice.
For Alabama coach Nick Saban, it was beginning to look like Kouandjio might never see the field.
"We weren't even sure that he would be able to get back and be able to play this season," he said.
Through hard work and perseverance, he has. Trainers have nicknamed him Freddy from the "Nightmare on Elm Street" movie because, as his younger brother Cyrus put it, "They chop 'em up real good and he just keeps on coming."
"He's a pretty relentless guy," Saban said. "...He has developed into a nice backup player for us right now, which adds depth to the offensive line, so we're really pleased with him. I think it speaks to his character and work ethic and attitude that has got him back to being able to do that."
With the exception of Alabama's 35-0 win over Western Kentucky, Kouandjio has appeared in every game this season.
To center Barrett Jones, his comeback is nothing short of remarkable.
"It's really unbelievable that he's back out there, and not only is he back out there but he's doing a fabulous job," Jones said. "He's really made huge strides and looks healthier than he has in a really long time."
With a new spring in his step, Kouandjio has reminded Jones he's more than a series of X-rays and MRIs.
"He's a guy that's got a lot of potential to be a really good player for us, not just a guy who came back from injury," Jones said. "We're expecting big things from Arie, and I think he's expecting big things."
Sending a message
There's a funny thing about blowout wins. People stop paying attention.
Fans leave the stadium. Starters rest on the bench. The sense of inevitability turns the focus away from the football field.
But for Saban, his attention rarely strays. Late during Saturday's 40-7 blowout of Florida Atlantic, the coach was flagged for a penalty for being too far onto the field of play. He was busy yelling at the second-string players.
"He's always intense from the first one to the last one," Jones said. "That's what I love about him."
Saban's motto: Play every play like it's your last.
"He said he’s going to coach to the last whistle, and he expects us to play to the last whistle," linebacker Nico Johnson said. "With him getting on the guys at the end of the game lat week -- the twos got in a couple weeks ago at Arkansas, and they busted a couple plays. Going into the following week, he wanted them to improve, which they did, but they still gave up a touchdown, which is not a big deal. But he just wanted them to improve and compete even more than they did the week before."
Studying? On a Saturday?
Late kickoffs like the one Alabama will face against Ole Miss on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. CT can send players into a deep state of boredom. They'll take nap, watch the games on TV or go over the playbook.
But studying? In all of Jones' years at Alabama, he's never seen that.
"Who studies on a Saturday?" he said. "I'm the biggest nerd on the team and I've never cracked a book on a Saturday."