MIAMI — It was a force of nature that moved Eddie Lacy from his home in Gretna to a starring role at Dutchtown High School.
It is a force of nature, his nature, that makes Lacy a crucial cog in the Alabama machinery that is driving toward a third national championship in the last four seasons.
Lacy started his high school career at Helen Cox in Harvey, where his freshman year was disrupted — washed away, really — by Hurricane Katrina.
Football became his anchor, his port from the storm in a tangible sense.
“Because of the hurricane, I didn’t know where I would wind up or what my future would be,” Lacy said Saturday, standing on the field at Sun Life Stadium that is the home of Monday’s BCS National Championship Game — and the Miami Hurricanes.
“I got discouraged at one point. I just played football because that’s what made me happy at the time.”
Lacy’s arrival made Dutchtown coach Benny Saia pretty happy, too, as in someone-just-handed-him-a-winning-lottery-ticket happy.
In his first game at Dutchtown his sophomore season, Lacy rushed for 155 yards and four touchdowns.
“He was pretty easy to spot,” Saia said with a laugh. “You didn’t have to figure it out.”
LSU and Tennessee were among a raft of schools that chased Lacy, but his desire to play out of state led him to Tuscaloosa, Ala.
“I wound up at Alabama, and I’m just living the life,” he said.
The life at Alabama seems to come with annual trips to the national championship game these days.
Last year, Lacy helped Alabama to a national championship in his hometown, swamping the hometown favorite LSU Tigers 21-0 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Nick Saban’s M.O. at Alabama has been to turn his tailback position into a two-headed beast.
In the run to the 2009 national championship, it was Heisman Trophy winner and current New Orleans Saints tailback Mark Ingram along with a freshman Trent Richardson. Last season it was Richardson, now with the Cleveland Browns, and Lacy, who rushed for 674 yards and seven touchdowns.
This year, it’s Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon. The tandem has been as productive as any that has come before, with Lacy rushing for 1,182 yards and 16 touchdowns, Yeldon an even 1,000 yards and 11 TDs.
“The maturity he’s developed since he’s been at Alabama playing behind two pretty good running backs in Ingram and Richardson has really helped him,” Saia said. “This year is his time to be ‘the guy,’ and I think he’s done a pretty good job with that.
“He’s worked hard for what he’s got.”
“We’re physical,” Lacy said. “It’s the mind set we have. Day in and out, we work hard, and when game comes, we run the way we’re supposed to.”
Lacy brings an intensity to the game that his opponents can’t help but respect, a determination and presence that tells the defense that every play is his, the possible launching point for another bruising long run or big score.
“His quickness and his big upper body makes him hard to bring down,” LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “When you tackle him, you have to tackle him low. On the big-time runners, you have to be really sound in your technique to be able to bring them down.”
Lacy appreciates the compliment.
“It lets you know that whatever you’re doing is working,” he said.
“That comes from our position coach (Burton Burns). He teaches us to run physical, run physical. After awhile, the defense realizes, ‘He’s not going to stop.’ ”
When Lacy speaks of returning home, the home he typically refers to is on the West Bank, not in Ascension Parish. It’s where many of his relatives still live.
It’s not a place where too many LSU fans give him too much grief about going away to play for the Tigers’ most bitter rival.
“I’d say it’s 50-50,” Lacy said, flashing an easy smile. “I stay with the good half on that. Actually, it’s not too bad.”
Soon, though, Lacy will have to decide whether to leave his adopted home in Alabama and turn pro.
Lacy deflected a question Saturday about his decision-making process as though it were an undersized cornerback bouncing off his 6-foot, 220-pound frame, saying it would be up to his parents to make the choice.
Observers of the Alabama program expect that he will declare for the draft as Ingram and Richardson did before him, especially since he has been bothered by nagging turf toe injuries in the past.
For now, though, he’s focused on this game and the test that it brings in a Notre Dame defense that stops the run (92.4 yards per game, two TDs) as well as Bama runs it (224.6 ypg, 35 TDs).
“You play a team that’s good at stopping the run, and it presents a challenge for us. We like that,” Lacy said, sounding a bit like a hungry man eyeing a steak.
As he departs, one is left to wonder whether Notre Dame’s proud defense will come to the realization that so many of Lacy’s opponents have over the years.
He’s not going to stop.
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