It was 3rd-and-9 for Alabama at its 31-yard line when Kenyan Drake lined up in the backfield behind quarterback Blake Sims last October. The second quarter was just underway and the Crimson Tide trailed 3-0 in Oxford, Miss.
Drake sprinted up field as Sims received the snap from Ryan Kelly. He spun around at the 31-yard line to face his quarterback, who quickly dumped the ball off as an Ole Miss defender closed in on his left. Drake snagged the pass and cut up field before being sandwiched between defenders and taken down after a 10-yard gain.
As the referees blew their whistles to signal the end of the play, players picked themselves up from the turf and walked to their huddles — everyone except Drake.
Drake remained on the ground as he clutched his left leg, writhing in pain, and the crowd at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium quickly grew quiet as members of Alabama’s sports medicine staff ran to attend to him. He was eventually carted off the field, but not before he raised his right fist to give a thumbs-up gesture to his teammates. Alabama would go on to lose 23-17, and it was the last game Drake would play that season as he suffered a broken left ankle on Oct. 4.
Nearly a year has passed since the injury.
A strained hamstring forced Drake to miss ‘Bama’s opening scrimmage of the season, but he returned to practice this August where he had his first live contact since 2014. Drake’s early-season performances indicate there’s little rust from his absence from the gridiron. Through his first two games he’s rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He’s been just as effective in the passing game, catching seven for 139 yards and a touchdown, for an eye-popping 19.9 yards per reception. Drake has been used on kick returns, as well.
Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin hasn’t hesitated to take advantage of Drake’s versatility and has used the talented back as a receiver multiple times, much like he did with Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush when Kiffin was USC's offensive coordinator in 2005. Drake led the Crimson Tide with 91 receiving yards and added a receiving touchdown in last week’s 37-10 win over Middle Tennessee. And in Alabama’s season-opening 35-17 victory over Wisconsin he finished as the team’s second-leading receiver, gaining 48 yards on two receptions.
Since arriving at Alabama in 2012 from Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs, Ga., as four-star prospect, according to Rivals, Drake has been a key contributor for the Crimson Tide’s offense. In his career he’s rushed for 1,204 yards and 18 touchdowns and has caught 24 passes for 433 yards and four scores.
Drake has gone 2-1 against the Rebels and was perhaps the missing component Alabama needed to avoid last year’s upset. He’ll get his opportunity to avenge it in Tuscaloosa Saturday in his final game against Ole Miss.
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.