Reggie Ragland is the smiling face of Alabama's defense

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SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — Reggie Ragland stands out on Alabama's defense when the spotlight's on.

He's usually the one smiling. The All-America linebacker is the guy cracking jokes and reciting lines from his favorite movies at practice, the happy-go-lucky star on a team that often seems to mirror coach Nick Saban's sternly stoic, all-business demeanor.

Ragland is the (smiling) face of the Crimson Tide's defense going into Monday night's national championship game against Clemson.

"I'm enjoying this moment and opportunity that I get," he said. "Not a lot of people get this experience. So why not have fun with it?"

Most teammates and coaches looked all business when they stepped into a packed room for campus media day last week. Not Ragland, who burst through the door with a wide grin and a "How y'all doing?"

He's not just the class cutup who can get away with calling coach Nick Saban "Nicholas," but also one of the best players on the nation's top-rated defense.

Ragland returned for his senior season instead of turning pro for the chance to graduate, fulfilling a promise to his mother when he got his consumer affairs degree in December. He moved into the play calling role for Alabama's defense and became a unanimous All-American.

Ragland's 97 tackles are 33 more than the Tide's No. 2 tackler, fellow linebacker Reuben Foster. He was a Butkus Award finalist.

No wonder Ragland is smiling.

"It's been great," he said. "I've got something I can fall back on in my future, and hopefully I helped my stock. I really came back to get my degree and play with these guys. You don't get too many moments like this."

Ragland is the latest in a chain of 'Bama linebacking stars, filling a role once occupied by current NFL players like C.J. Mosley and Rolando McClain.

"He's as valuable as anybody to this defense," Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones said. "Alabama defenses, the great ones, have always had a great middle linebacker, a great leader out there setting the tone. I think he does that."

Ragland just does it with a sense of flair and personality. He was one of the first players to reach out and support freshman safety Ronnie Harrison when he arrived on campus, helping him push through offseason workouts.

"He's like the Ray Lewis of our defense," Harrison said. "He keeps everybody in line. He makes all the checks, all the calls. He makes sure everybody's on the same page. He really keeps us in line.

"He always keeps us loose. He always recites old movie lines and stuff at practice. He keeps us loose and keeps us going."

Ragland's favorite flicks include "Soul Men" and "Friday," where some of those lines come from.

He said he was never bashful about joking around with the intimidating Saban, even as an underclassman.

If they pass each other in the hall, Saban might say, "Hello, Reginald." That draws the obvious response: "Hello Nicholas."

If players like A'Shawn Robinson and Derrick Henry — and Saban, too — often take on unsmiling demeanors in public forums, Ragland favors a different style.

"That's how they are when the camera comes on," he said. "That's just their personality. Me, I'm different. I like to smile and cut up with everybody."

AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org


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