They say you can never go home. Will Friend is doing so this weekend when he returns to his alma mater as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach of the Colorado State Rams.
Friend was a four-year starter and two-time All-SEC selection as a guard at Alabama in the early- to mid-1990s. He played on three teams that made it to the SEC Championship Game, before embarking on a coaching career. Friend started out at the University of West Alabama and Central High School before moving on, eventually, to UAB and Georgia before his current stop.
And even though he grew up in Mississippi, he still considers Alabama home.
“You know what, I do,” he said. “It’s a special place to me. My wife is from the state of Alabama. … I’ve probably spent as much time in Alabama as anywhere I’ve lived in my life. So yeah, it’s home for me.
“That part will be good, to be able to come back home.”
Friend married a Birmingham girl, and will have 13 extended family members in the stands for his return.
“I just told them that they can’t wear anything with Alabama on it,” Friend said. “There will be enough of that in the stands that they don’t need to have that on.”
Friend and his boss, Colorado State coach Mike Bobo, go back to before they even really met. They shared the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 1994, when Alabama won a shootout with Georgia, 29-28. Friend was an offensive lineman for the Crimson Tide and Bobo was a backup quarterback for the Bulldogs.
“It was at night, Eric Zeier was our quarterback, and it was just electric,” Bobo recalled of his first visit to the stadium.
The two connected years later through Neil Callaway, who brought Friend to Georgia as a graduate assistant in the early 2000s. Callaway was offensive coordinator in Athens and Bobo was coaching quarterbacks.
When Callaway was hired as head coach at UAB in 2007, he brought Friend with him. After three seasons, Friend went back to Georgia as offensive line coach, and when Bobo was hired at Colorado State in December 2014, Friend was his first hire.
The Rams are averaging 42 passes per game, more than some of Friend’s Alabama teams might have thrown in a month.
“What we were at Georgia is what we are here,” Friend said. “We try to be a balanced offense and we’ve been playing pretty well on offense the last year or so here, and we haven’t had a challenge like we’re going to have Saturday night.”
That challenge will be presented by UA defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who was a teammate of Friend’s at Alabama. They also coached together.
“Jeremy and I talk a good bit,” Friend said. “Not only were we close in college and obviously went into the same profession and stayed in contact through our whole careers, and obviously we’ve been together at Georgia when we were there. Probably (talk) a couple of times a week, haven’t talked this week.
“Really, I think both of us were pretty competitive, when we were on the same staff, against each other. We’ll both be trying to get after each other on Saturday night.”