Long before he started patrolling the sidelines at the University of Alabama, Nick Saban spent his earlier days on the field as a hard-hitting defensive back.
But during his time at Kent State University, the college football legend could have easily lost his life.
However, thanks to an aptly-timed meal with one of his teammates, Saban avoided a violent tragedy that resulted in the deaths of four fellow KSU students.
Nick Saban played defensive back in college before transitioning to coaching
Born in West Virginia, Nick Saban played alongside future Mountaineers star Kerry Marbury in high school. Despite playing quarterback in his prep days, Bill Belichick’s close friend switched to the other side of the ball in college.
From 1970-72, Saban played defensive back at Kent State University under coach Don James.
He reportedly had a reputation for seeking out contact and making big hits in practice during his days with the Golden Flashes.
“I had a lot of fun playing. I loved the competition,” Saban said back in 2015, according to Saturday Down South. “But when I played, you played everything. When it was baseball season, you played baseball. Basketball season, you played basketball. Football you played football. I think there’s a lot of benefit to that. I certainly enjoyed it when I was young. I think that sometimes we encourage people to specialize too early.”
Of course, Saban found far more success once he traded in his helmet and shoulder pads for a bucket hat and a whistle. He remained at Kent State as a graduate assistant before ascending to linebackers coach. He continued to work his way up the ladder by working at a number of schools, including Michigan State.
Since 2007, the 69-year-old has been in charge of the Crimson Tide football program. Along the way, he has won five national titles. He also captured a championship at LSU.
However, Nick Saban could have easily lost his life long before he became one of the most recognizable figures in the football world.
A deadly day at Kent State University
On May 4, 1970, a tragedy occurred at Kent State University.
On that fateful day, the Ohio National Guard turned a peaceful protest into a violent massacre.
KSU students planned to meet at noon as part of a protest against the United States’ expanding involvement in the Vietnam War. However, when the crowd refused to disperse, members of the Ohio National Guard first used tear gas to try and break things up.
Then chaos escalated.
After retreating to the top of a hill, the Guardsmen reportedly fired nearly 70 shots in a matter of 13 seconds. What started as a peaceful protest ended with four students losing their lives.
Although he was a student-athlete at the time of the Kent State Massacre, Nick Saban avoided being a part of the deadly tragedy thanks to a well-timed trip to eat lunch.
Saban saved his own life by meeting his teammate for lunch
Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder, and Sandra Scheuer died during the Kent State shootings that took place more than 50 years ago. Nine other students got injured in the tragic incident that marked the first time a student had been killed in an anti-war gathering.
Luckily for Nick Saban, he didn’t have time to get to the 12 p.m. protest.
The then-sophomore defensive back missed the actual gunfire because he went to eat with one of his teammates. Instead of being present for a traumatic event that left four of his fellow students dead, Saban inadvertently saved his own life by meeting his friend for lunch.
Still, the tragedy has had a long-lasting impact on the Alabama head coach.
During a September 2016 press conference, he recounted the day that could have ended very differently if he hadn’t chosen to eat lunch with a Kent State teammate.
“I think it was certainly to that point in my life, one of the most traumatic experiences, I think, that I’d ever had to deal with,” Saban said. “It actually made me appreciate the fact that law and order is very important, but it also made me appreciate the fact of what those students were trying to express, in terms of the Vietnam War and the demonstrations that they were having.”