This year Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will be a full time starter and a full time star as well.
Football is no Laughing Matter to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
By: Larry Burton
Freshmen have been known to earn playing time under Nick Saban and some have even been known to start. But few have done either at defensive back, a position where Nick Saban feels experience and complete understanding of his system trumps raw talent.
Saban allowed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to play some as a freshman and Ha Ha responded to his playing time with 11 tackles including five solo stops and two pass breakups as a backup safety. Last season, he split time with defensive back Vinnie Sunseri and others, playing in all 13 games including nine starts. While not truly being a full-time player, he did amass some good numbers with four interceptions, 30 tackles, one forced fumble and three pass breakups.
Everyone feels now he’s developed into a player that Saban and company will not want to take off the field and if that’s true, his stats could grow much larger this year. This season, he’ll more than likely fill the spot vacated by Robert Lester while Sunseri fills the other safety role.
While those seem like big shoes to fill, as Lester is now in the NFL and led the SEC his junior year in interceptions, this is the man who can do it. When Lester left high school, few schools were interested in him, but Clinton-Dix was the most sought after safety coming into college football and was ranked No. 1 in most recruiting services. Both Lester and Clinton-Dix are comparable in size and physicality, however Ha Ha has the speed while Lester’s biggest knock against him coming out of both high school and college was his quickness.
If Saban, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and secondary coach Greg Brown can get Lester’s knowledge of the schemes in Ha Ha’s body, then there’s no denying that this player could be no laughing matter to opponents. Lester made up for the lack of burning speed with an uncanny ability to just be in the right place at the right time and anticipate what the quarterback was going to do. Lester also took mentoring seriously too.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot from Robert and the other players here.” Clinton-Dix said in an interview last season. “This is a much more complicated defense for ‘backs than anything a high school runs and it’s hard to just come in and get it all quickly.” But the other part of the equation is gelling with the rest of the defensive backs, trusting them to be in position, trusting them to make the tackles and everything else they’re supposed to do.
Last season, Ha Ha got that down too.
So what could he do as a full time starter who puts in a lot more minutes of playing time?
His freshman season’s 11 tackles were just baby steps for Clinton-Dix, and last year’s 30 tackles could just be the beginning of what is possible. The last time he was a full-time player, his senior year of high school, he had amassed 112 tackles to be exact and 10 of those were for a loss. Combined with four forced fumbles, two interceptions, six sacks and eight pass breakups, you can see why teams were drooling for him.
And it’s not like this was all he did at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla. He also ran the ball 23 times for 244 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 10.6 yards per carry. When they needed big yardage, they occasionally put him in as a receiver and he caught five passes for a whopping 156 yards. For the mathematically challenged, that comes out to over 31 yards per catch. These stats on offense, along with his almost 25-yard punt return average, his 26.5-yard kick return average and his three touchdowns all prove that if he gets the ball in his hands, he knows what to do with it.
Now starting his junior campaign, Clinton-Dix comes into the 2013 season with high praise from some notable college football award watch lists including:
The Jim Thorpe Award – This is the award given to the best defensive back in the nation.
The Bednarik Award – This award goes to the nation’s best defensive player.
The Bronko Nagurski Trophy – Also given to the nation’s best defensive player.
So if you don’t think this could be Ha Ha’s breakout year, then you’re disagreeing with some of the greatest minds in college football.
As the season goes on, Alabama fans will be smiling and cheering wildly over the things that Ha Ha could do, and while the Alabama fans will be hilariously happy with the results, it won’t be a laughing matter to the Alabama opponents this season.
Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow Larry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter