As honorees at the Walter Camp Foundation annual award ceremony were being introduced last weekend at Yale University, one of the kids in attendance pointed to the stage and said, “That’s the guy who got married right after the game!”
Well, not quite.
Alabama center Bradley Bozeman admits life has already changed well in advance of his upcoming nuptials to long-time girlfriend Nikki Hegstetter. Bozeman knew his decision to propose on the field immediately following last week’s national championship win over Georgia would cause at least a mini-stir. What he didn’t expect was the ensuing publicity the engagement has since received.
“She’s really special to me and I think she deserved the grand stage like she got,” Bozeman told co-host Gil Brandt and me on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “But this thing has blown up. It’s unreal. I just wanted a few good pictures and it’s turned into so many interviews and different things.
“It’s honestly been overwhelming. It’s Good Morning America. It’s the Today Show. CBS, SEC Network, ESPN … everything. But it’s great though. It’s awesome to be able to do it.”
A friend introduced Bozeman to Hegstetter in 2014 while both were aboard an on-campus shuttle bus heading to class. As their relationship bloomed, Bozeman prepared to ask for her hand when the idea to do it inside Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium entered his mind.
“I kind of set it up where we were just taking pictures on the field,” Bozeman said. “That’s what I told her earlier in the week just so she didn’t think anything was up. We got her on the field and everybody found out about it right before I did it so they kind of cleared the area for me and I popped the question. It was perfect.”
There was just one catch: The Crimson Tide had to win, otherwise Bozeman would delay his proposal “probably about two months or so.”
“You know, let it kind of thin out a little bit,” Bozeman said with a chuckle.
Bozeman and Hegstetter both have Tua Tagovailoa for not making them wait. The freshman quarterback replaced embattled starter Jalen Hurts in the second half of the game, completing 14 of 24 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns to one interception. He capped his performance — and the Tide’s 26-23 comeback win — with a 41-yard touchdown pass in overtime.
Bozeman said he was impressed not only with the former five-star quarterback’s heroics, but also how he kept grinding throughout the year, knowing Hurts had just led Alabama to a national championship game appearance against Clemson the year prior.
“Tua knew that (Hurts) was going to be in that starting position, but he never wavered, never took it easy,” Bozeman said. “That guy came in and prepared like he was going to play the next week.
“That’s a big thing because I remember when I was a freshman, there was no chance of me stepping on the field so I might not have taken it as serious as I should have. But Tua, that’s not the case. He was ready to play and he showed what he could do.”
The same can be said of a Crimson Tide team that needed help just to reach the College Football Playoff after losing the SEC West title to Auburn to end the regular season. Alabama made it as a No. 4 seed after Ohio State beat previously unbeaten Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.
“I think that (national championship) game was a good representation of how this team has battled this whole year,” Bozeman said. “There’s been a lot of adversity, a lot of different scenarios have come up that we’ve had to overcome. And that game was no different.
“We’re down 13-0 going into the half. We switch in Tua and there’s another example of a guy stepping up and performing. This is the best team I’ve ever been a part of because we really rallied around each other with each injury and other adversity we faced.”
A fifth-year senior who made 31 starts at Alabama, the 6-5, 314-pound Bozeman is now shifting his attention to the NFL Draft. He will participate next week in the Reese’s Senior Bowl, and has accepted an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine. Projected by draft analysts as an early- to mid-round pick, Bozeman said his marriage to Hegstetter won’t take place until spring 2019 so he can concentrate on launching his pro career.
While immediately winning a Super Bowl as a rookie is a long shot, Bozeman’s wedding will give him a sixth ring to go with the handful he earned at Alabama: three from SEC titles and two from national titles.
“Since I was a little kid I had the dream of going to Alabama,” said Bozeman, who attended Handley High School in Roanoke, Ala. “I told my dad, I told everyone that I was going to play at Alabama. And everybody was like ‘This little fat, short dumpy kid. …’”
“I’ve wanted it my whole life and I’m so glad that I made the decision to go there. To have the opportunities that I’ve had has been unreal.”
Count his engagement on college football’s biggest stage among them.