One of the most exciting things about college football is the ability to prepare even if you don’t play. No matter what position you’re in on the field, it is your job to be in practice every day along with studying the playbook and watching film with your teammates to get the chemistry together with your team as well as learn the tendencies of opposing teams.
For the Alabama Crimson Tide, everyone raves about the offense and linebackers, but the true talent on this team lies in the secondary. In recent seasons, the Crimson Tide has recruited standout players to the defense back position. From Simeon Castille, Kareem Jackson and Rashad Johnson to Dee Milliner, Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron, Alabama has produced outstanding NFL talent from the secondary. As for this season, a new star has begun to emerge in the last line of defense for Alabama.
As a native of Geismar, La., Landon Collins attended and played football for Dutchtown High School. Under head coach Benny Saia, Collins showed signs of becoming a dominant safety. In his sophomore year, he had 26 tackles, 1.5 sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. His production increased the following season. As a junior, Collins totaled 102 tackles (12 tackles for loss) and four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns).
The thing that made Collins standout from most athletes in Louisiana was his ability to play on both sides of the ball. Along with terrifying receivers on defense, Collins was a running back in high school. He amassed 1,218 yards rushing (13.7 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns. To be a productive running back and safety in high school, one must have top speed. Speed wasn’t a big deal for Collins. In the 40-yard dash, he was clocked at 4.39 and had a vertical jump of 43.5 inches.
Upon graduating Dutchtown High School, Collins was regarded as a consensus five-star recruit. He was ranked as the No.1 safety nationally by ESPNU and 247 sports. He was ranked as the top player in Louisiana unanimously and was a first-team USA Today High School All-American. 247 sports ranked Collins as the No.3 prospect nationally, while ESPNU ranked him as the No.6 national talent. Both Scout.com and Rivals.com ranked him as the No.2 safety nationally.
Though it’s great to be recognized by sports media outlets, it’s even better when you get rewarded for what you did on the field. For Collins, he became the first player to earn 5A All-State honors on both sides of the ball according to the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. Collins also made the 5A All-State selection as a junior according to the LSWA. College recruits really began to study Collins in the 2011 Under Armour All-American Game. In this game, Collins showed recruits his raw potential at the safety position in his ability to record an interception and contribute to a goal line stand.
Collins could have gone to any school in the nation, but his final decision came down to Tennessee, Texas and the SEC West rivals, Alabama and LSU. On the night of the 2011 Under Armour All-American Game, Collins in sporting a pair of Alabama receiver gloves chose the Crimson Tide over LSU. Though his decision disappointed his mother then, it’s safe to say that she’s happy with it now.
An interesting aspect about Nick Saban is that he’s a man of stewardship. Once he sees a player succeed in one phase of the game, it’s likely that he will trust him with more responsibilities on the field. Every Alabama player that desired a starting position had to first excel in special teams. From Vinnie Sunseri to Dee Hart, the only access to a starting role in Saban’s system was to be a man on special teams.
For Landon Collins, he embraced the role well. As a freshman in 2012, Collins played in all 14 games. Despite coming off the bench, he made an immediate impact. He recorded 17 tackles, a blocked punt and was the head-hunting gunner on special teams with 10 tackles (lead the team). Against Auburn and Western Carolina combined, Collins totaled eight tackles. He had three tackles in 42-14 victory against Notre Dame in the 2013 BCS title game. Collins received Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his performances against Missouri, Auburn and Western Carolina.
Now established as a force and game changer on special teams, Collins would get the opportunity to play in the secondary. Thus far in second year, Collins hasn’t suffered from the sophomore slump. In eight games this season, he has 34 total tackles (28 solo and six assisted). He is second to CJ Mosley in this category. Collins has helped the Alabama defense become No.1 in the nation in points allowed this season, giving up 9.8 points per game.
The moment that caused Collins’s number to be called was the matchup against Arkansas. In covering a kickoff, Vinnie Sunseri hurts his left knee. He was helped off the field and didn’t return to play. After being notified that Sunseri’s injury was more than what was imagined, Saban called on Collins to finish the game. Like a solider going to war, Collins put on his helmet, tightened up his chinstrap and went to work. He had five total tackles and two deflections in the 52-0 victory against Arkansas.
Despite Sunseri being out for the season with a torn ACL, Alabama was confident in the fact that Collins could step up and play huge. Collins rewarded his teammates, coaching staff and the fan base with his masterful performance against Tennessee. Though he recorded six tackles (led the team) and a forced fumble, his finest play came with 29 seconds remaining in the first half. With Alabama leading the Volunteers 28-0, Collins reads the eyes of quarterback Justin Worley, breaks on the ball, gets the interception and takes it 89 yards to the house.
It was mentioned earlier that every Crimson Tide player who desires a starting position must dominate special teams first. As for Collins, he’s at the right place at the right time on special teams and thus far defensively he’s been doing the same thing. He’s already been named as a semifinalist for Butkus Award and the Jim Thorpe Award. The question now is can the Louisiana native continue to embrace the moment?