[Ed. Note: Please welcome Hannah Stephens to the Roll 'Bama Roll fold. You may know her as the "UA Sign Girl," but in her capacity with us, Hannah will be manning the Facebook account and contributing with feature articles, interviews (where possible,) and other things of a more personal nature: There are human beings behind those jerseys and their stories should be told. With the NIT in full swing, what more fitting way to welcome Hannah and to honor Dakota Slaughter than in this story, and written by one of his friends. Say hi and play nice. -Erik]
When I was asked to write my first story for Roll ‘Bama Roll, this Senior Salute to Dakota Slaughter, I was very eager to do so. Dakota and I became friends my sophomore year at Alabama. The first time we met, my friends and I were painting up for an Alabama gymnastics meet. Somehow, he ended up being the ‘exclamation mark,' in our "ROLLTIDE!" That was the first moment I saw Dakota's fearlessness - his willingness to be a shirtless exclamation mark, joining a group of strangers in Coleman Coliseum, the same place four years later he'd play his last home game as a senior for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Dakota Slaughter epitomizes much about an Anthony Grant player: he is relentless, hardworking, and humble. In his 2011 freshman year, Slaughter was a part of the Tide's practice squad and scout team. It is a difficult position, one where players constantly try to prove their abilities to the coaches, often in the role of opposing players. For many players, the unheralded, unrewarded work is simply mentally defeating. Many walkons don't have the tenacity to put in the unrewarded work everyday, knowing that their chances of making the roster may never happen.
For Dakota, the hard work had a payoff; halfway through the 2011 season, he was added to the Alabama roster. For the next three seasons, Dakota would not see much playing time, but he would become a key part of the team with his presence on the sidelines, in practices, and generally doing the unheralded work that helps the starters have success.
Every team has those players that see limited action, yet still have an impact on the game. Whether they get their chance to help because of an injury, backing up and competing with a starter, or whether it's a coach's willingness to see a player's ability, every team has players on the sidelines who keep the morale of the team going, who have a positive attitude, and who are ready to go in whenever they are called upon. Dakota's role may have been that of a spot player (In his second season, Slaughter played a total of just 43 minutes in 11 games.) But, his behind the scenes effort and sideline comraderie were nonetheless important; especially in a team sport with so few players, where the roster is more like a family than a depth chart.
After years of hard work as a walkon and a reserve, Slaughter was finally rewarded. In Dakota's third season, he was given a scholarship and saw action in 11 games. Before suffering a broken nose and missing five games to end the season, Dakota scored seven points against Stillman College, and had an assist and a block against Ole Miss. And, even while injured, Dakota remained a team player: When cameras panned across the team after a shot or during a timeout, Dakota was constantly cheering on and encouraging his teammates. Instead of pouting on the bench about his lack of minutes, he was trying to encourage his teammates to play their best. His character showed, even while the team was struggling.
This was his senior season, and we are all glad that he and the other seniors have been able to extend their career with the NIT. Yet, I, and many fans, hoped that Coach Grant and the staff would give Dakota more playing time in the regular season. "Slaughter Time" signs were a commonplace sight at home games. On March 3, 2015, Dakota played in his last home game against Ole Miss. He scored 8 points in 21 minutes and made everyone, even the broadcasters, wonder why he hadn't played more all season. That question remains unanswered. His energy and ability to read the court is something that the Crimson Tide sorely lacked at times, and, with so many injuries, his physical presence would have been an asset.
No competitor likes to sit out the action, and, I'm sure Dakota Slaughter wishes he had earned more playing time during his tenure at Alabama. But, I also know that he is the sort more thankful for the opportunity rather than being upset about how an opportunity may have fallen short. Dakota has a very bright future, whatever he decides to do. He is a two-time SEC Academic Honor Roll recipient, and the Fishers' Point, Indiana native has earned degrees in Spanish and Marketing at the Capstone.
It sounds cliched when speaking of athletes, but it is true: Hard work and patience are two of the greatest qualities one can have. And, those traits are eventually rewarded, even if quietly. Slaughter could have quit after being on the scout team, but he did not. He could have quit over lack of playing time, but he did not. And, yes, while he can quit anytime after college when life is hard, he will not.
We can all learn something from Dakota's journey.
Dakota, I am proud of you. Your work ethic and perseverance are contagious, and I have no doubt that those qualities will follow you long after you graduate. Best of luck to you, Dakota Slaughter, and Roll Tide, my friend.