Minkah Fitzpatrick’s teammates call him “Coach Saban’s son.” The personality test he took upon arriving on campus more closely matched that of the Alabama coach than any other player on the team.
If Nick Saban is the most detail-oriented person in college football, then Fitzpatrick, his junior defensive back, might just be the second most. It’s why Fitzpatrick is the only player on the Crimson Tide whose play routinely puts a smile on the coach’s face.
“He’s the standard of the program,” says junior running back Damien Harris, in an excellent profile of Fitzpatrick by Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated, which you can read here.
Apstein details Fitzpatrick’s journey from his family losing their house in a hurricane, to him helping his father at work, to his annoyance at youth-team teammates for playing in a pool at Disney World the night before a championship game, to being upset on the bench during a Crimson Tide rout.
“He once looked so distraught on the sideline that Harris asked him what was wrong. ‘I missed an assignment,’ he said. “Dude,” Harris said. “We’re up by 40.”
“Fitzpatrick attributes the Tide’s crushing loss in last season’s championship game against Clemson to ‘people coming late to a meeting or just not wearing the right socks.’ He acknowledges that he may sound insane but adds, ‘If you can’t do the small things right, how can you expect to do the big things?’ “
“I just like being around him,” Saban says. “I like the way he goes about his work. It’s fun to see him improve and take on new challenges. He’s just one of those favorite guys.”
Having a Saban-esque mindset on the field during practices and games as well as off the field when players are going about their normal day-to-day activities has proven invaluable for a team, and defense especially, decimated by injuries.
Fitzpatrick has stepped up to play every position in the secondary during his three-year career in Tuscaloosa, molding himself into what Saban calls the “prototype” of what college defensive backs will look like in the future of the sport.
During college football’s awards week, Fitzpatrick won two prestigious defensive honors — the Jim Thorpe and Chuck Bendarik awards — and received a congratulatory call from Harris. His response illustrates how his mind is always on the next step on the path to greatness.
“Thank you,” Fitzpatrick told his teammate, “but we’re trying to get a ring.”