INDIANAPOLIS – It was a late April night in the Windy City and Nick Saban was holed up in a back hallway inside of the Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University.
Attending the first night of the NFL Draft for Saban has become a staple during his tenure at Alabama.
Saban produces pros.
That is a statement that is irrefutable in today's world of college football.
So this past spring, there was Saban, watching Ryan Kelly, the nation's top center, go No. 18 overall in the NFL Draft to the Indianapolis Colts.
Alabama's loss equals the Colts' gain.
"I'm sure the (Colts') entire offense will appreciate him and Andrew (Luck) will as well," Saban said on the night of Round One.
Why was Saban going to miss a center who hardly registered on the national recruiting Richter scale, compared to most Alabama recruits?October 4, 2014: With Alabama leading Ole miss 14-3 in the second quarter, Kelly went out with an injury. From there, Alabama's offense scored just three points the rest of the way. A 23-17 loss was the only setback the Crimson Tide had during the '14 regular seasonOctober 15, 2015: Alabama was up 28-13 at halftime over Texas A&M. A concussion knocked Kelly out of the final two quarters. Alabama's offense scored just six points with Kelly out of the lineup.
This is a center we are talking about, having this sort of impact on college football's most dominant team over the past handful of seasons.
In college, Kelly worked with a trio of quarterbacks in his three years as the starting center.
He won't have that turnover in the professional ranks.
Andrew Luck and Kelly will now try to do their best Peyton Manning/Jeff Saturday impression.
"I think the center/quarterback relationship is so special," Kelly says, "and it kind of drives an offense. Those guys do really work hand in hand, every single day, to get the offense on the same page and be successful."
Personally, Kelly believes his command in feeling comfortable and making calls across the offensive line is the area he has grown the most since entering the NFL.
"Through three preseason games and camp, that was probably the biggest thing, being up there, being the commander, really taken charge of the offense," Kelly says.
"As long as those guys feel confident you are doing the right job, they are going to be confident."
In his locker mate, Luck sees the maturity to be able to handle what is going to come at Kelly over the next four months and change.
"Sometimes as a rookie you can be wide eyed at certain things, but he handles things very professionally," Luck says of the man who will be snapping the ball to him this season.
"There's going to be things that he's never seen before or somebody is going to put a move on him that he's never experienced before. If he gets beat, he bounces right back.
"He's doing a heck of a job."