OKLAHOMA CITY -- Alabama head softball coach Patrick Murphy unabashedly calls his star pitcher, Montana Fouts "a rock star, icon, and legend."
These descriptive terms, however accurate, clearly make the modest Fouts uncomfortable.
"I don't know if I consider myself those things, but I'm very honored he does," she said Wednesday at the Women's College World Series last month.
Fouts has earned her status on the playing field. During Alabama's visit to the WCWS in 2021, she threw the sixth perfect game in WCWS history in a win over UCLA. In the same WCWS, she registered a career-high 16 strikeouts in a win over Arizona.
This season she matched her career high in strikeouts in a February outing vs. Georgia Southern and pitched another perfect game, this one in six innings, at Mississippi State in April. She appeared in 40 games, with 29 starts, and finished with an overall record of 25-10 and a 1.48 earned-run average.
Fouts hyperextended her left knee during the SEC Tournament in May, casting doubt over whether or not she would be able to contribute to Alabama's NCAA post-season. She removed all doubts, elevating her celebrity status even more by heroically providing relief during Alabama's NCAA run through the Tuscaloosa Regional and Super Regional rounds. As a graduate student in her fifth year of eligibility, the win she earned in relief in the game vs. Northwestern that clinched Bama's trip to Oklahoma City was the 100th of her storied career and came as she wore a huge brace to stabilize her knee.
"Honestly, God has blessed me with a lot less pain than you probably would think. Pain is temporary. I'll feel that some other day," Fouts said.
The Alabama sports scene certainly has had more than its share of sports celebrities through the years. Bryce Young, quarterback of the Tide's 2020 national championship team, won a Heisman Trophy and recently was the No. 1 selection in the NFL draft. There have been many others -- none bigger, in fact, than the head coach who has led the football team to six national titles, Nick Saban.
Murphy used an example involving Saban to illustrate how big Fouts has become on the Tuscaloosa campus and beyond.
"Saban has 'Nick at Noon' (event) on Friday before home football games." Murphy said. "They have like 600 people crammed into this hotel ballroom where they eat lunch. Then they have a warmup speaker."
Two years ago, Murphy was the warmup speaker and was in the middle of his act when a gentleman from the Alabama athletics department gave him the hand signal to wrap it up.
"The weird part of it is you never know when Coach Saban is going to come in," Murphy said. "I'm telling this great story. I think it's the best story in the world. Then I see this (guy signaling that Saban's) coming in. I was like, 'Oh, man. Roll Tide, everybody.' And I get off the stage."
At least Murphy was invited back to be warmup speaker at one of the events again this past year, ostensibly, perhaps, to finish the previous year's story. That's when he brought Fouts along.
"This year I was the warmup guy before Texas A&M, which was a huge game," Murphy said. "There were 750 people in this ballroom. I don't think you could stick another chair in there. I brought Miss Fouts with me. When we walked in, everybody was in line to eat. We walked all the way up to the front of the room, right next to the stage, and I don't think anybody saw her."
Everyone kept eating, and eventually Murphy got up and did his bit. This time, though, when he moved toward closing it up, he was given a different hand signal, telling him to draw it out. Saban hadn't arrived yet.
"I didn't know what to do," Murphy said. So he relied on Fouts' celebrity status to help him get through it.
"I showed Montana's tweet after last year, when she announced she was coming back for her fifth year. I said, 'Loyalty is very, very, very difficult to get nowadays, but one kid had it.' They put her tweet on the screen, and the place went wild. I said, 'You know what? I got a surprise for you guys. I got a friend that came that wants to say hi,' "Murphy said.
"Of course, Miss Montana stands up. She's 6-foot-2, so now everybody sees her. There were 12 guys from the (football) national championship team in 2012 there as well. ... We were laughing. Montana gets up, she gives her speech, which was terrific. She gets another standing ovation."
Afterward, one of the gentlemen in the crowd ran down Fouts and Murphy as they started to leave.
The beaming man asked, "Murph, did you hear Montana's ovation was twice as loud as the one for the national championship (players)?"
From there, as they laughed about it all and headed out the door to go to softball practice, someone else ran down the Fouts-Murphy tandem.
"Hey, Montana," this man called. "I love to watch you pitch."
It was Saban.
"Nothing to me," recalled Murphy, chuckling. "Montana got the kudos from Coach Saban. It was really a cool moment for me 'cause I think he does watch us all the time, especially from his living room.
"She is a rock star. Wherever we go, it is wild. It's the Beatles coming to town. It's Michael Jordan getting off the bus. That's the best way to describe it."
All of which made Fouts remember when Murphy first recruited her with a promise that obviously has come to fruition.
"I remember before I committed here, I was on the phone with Murph," Fouts said. "I was pacing in my bedroom, like a 12-year-old does whenever they're talking to Patrick Murphy. He was talking to me and said, 'If you come here, you're going to be a rock star.'
"I was like, 'Wait, I want to be a rock star.' The rest is history."