INDIANAPOLIS — With Alabama descending on the Circle City this weekend ahead of Monday's national championship game against Georgia, it's a return home for one of the Crimson Tide's offensive linemen.
Redshirt junior Emil Ekiyor is a Cathedral High School graduate and the starting right guard for the Tide. According to his high school head coach, Rick Streiff, Ekiyor was always dominant in the trenches.
"The very first day as a freshman, we were doing stuff with our freshmen right next to our varsity kids," recalled Streiff. "He took some poor little kid on that freshman team in the first drill and just mauled this kid."
It was at that point Streiff knew Ekiyor wouldn't be with the freshman team for long. That was back in 2014. Ekiyor helped lead Cathedral to a state championship that season at Lucas Oil Stadium and went on to be a four-year starter for the Irish.
Over those years, he morphed into a four-star prospect, eventually moved south to Tuscaloosa and now he's a key piece on Alabama's offensive line.
"It's just fun to watch every Saturday, turn the TV on and get to the SEC channel and watch him play," Streiff said. "Him doing the things we watched him do here, and just now doing it at that level is just fantastic."
What impresses Streiff the most is seeing his former player take on a leadership role up front.
"Him going from the guy being told what to do to, now being the guy that's pointing around telling everyone else what to do — that’s the growth you'd like to see him have."
Ekiyor first earned his starting job on the offense line last season, helping pave the way for Alabama to win yet another national championship. He has a chance to do it again, but this time in his own backyard.
"It's fun knowing he’s coming back home. Last year, we had Pete Werner on Ohio State's team. I wasn't picking sides, I was gonna try to remain neutral. Either side won last year would've been alright with me," Streiff said.
This year Ekiyor is the lone Indy native on either side, so coach Streiff said he'll be rooting for the Tide on gameday. And he'll be watching proudly as Ekiyor represents the city and Cathedral on college football's biggest stage.
"It's the way he goes about his business, and you'd like to think that our school had a small piece on his development. His mom and dad are super people, so he came here with really good stock," Streiff said. "We just hoped to continue to mold that piece of clay, and coach Saban and those guys down there, same thing — just mold that piece of clay into the fantastic young man he is today."
Ekiyor will be back home again in Indiana where it all began. Look out for No. 55 at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday.