Quarterbacks and Running backs are great, but special teams set the tone in football games. A return specialist is the first player an audience sees on the field. It’s primary job to generate positive field position for an offense.
Return men have to field the ball cleanly, use vision to set up blocks and accelerate downfield. Unlike quarterbacks, return specialist get one chance to make a good first impression. The crowd embraces them if they are electrifying, but will scrutinize them if mistakes happen.
Despite its love for size, Alabama enjoys recruiting players with speed too. Here is a list of the top 10 return specialist in Crimson Tide history.
Top 10 Return Specialist
10. Bobby Humphrey (1985-88)
- Humphrey was a great running back, but he serviced Alabama well as a return specialist.
- He totaled 46 kick returns for 1,015 yards in his career.
- In 1987, Humphrey recorded 356 return yards and averaged 23.7 yards per return.
- He finished his career averaging 22.1 yards per kick return.
- Humphrey finished 10th in the Heisman voting in 1987.
- He made four bowl appearances with Alabama, including wins in the Aloha Bowl (1985) and Sun Bowl (1986, 1988).
- The Denver Broncos selected Humphrey with the third pick (first round) in the 1989 NFL Supplemental Draft.
- He played four seasons (1989-92) in the NFL with Denver and Miami.
9. Brandon Brooks (2001-05)
- Alabama had a great return tandem in Tyrone Prothro and Brandon Brooks.
- Brooks totaled 291 punt return yards (6.2 yards per return) in his career.
- He put in 571 kick return yards (26.0 yards per return) and a touchdown.
- Brooks stepped up for the Tide in 2005 after Prothro’s injury.
- In 2005, Brooks returned six kicks for 121 yards, averaging 20.2 yards per return.
- He made three bowl appearances with Alabama, including the 2006 Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide won 13-10.
8. Greg Richardson (1983-86)
- Before Javier Arenas, Richardson was the big time punt returner for Alabama.
- He played in four of the most dramatic Iron Bowls in history.
- Richardson came up huge in the 1985 Iron Bowl.
- His 19-yard reception on the final drive helped set up the Van Tiffin 52-yard game-winning field goal. Alabama won 25-23
- In the following season, Richardson had a career-high in punt return yards.
- He totaled 329 yards (7.8 yards per return) and a touchdown in 1986.
- Richardson finished his career with 997 punt return yards and two touchdowns.
- He made three bowl appearances with the Tide.
- The Minnesota Vikings selected in the sixth round (156th pick) of the 1987 NFL Draft.
7. Freddie Milons (1998-01)
- Under Mike DuBose and Dennis Franchione, Milons was a big play waiting to happen.
- He was a good receiver, but a maestro in creating field position.
- In 1999, Milons had 282 punt return yards (9.7 yards per return) and a touchdown.
- He tallied 374 kick return yards (23.4 yards per return) in 2001.
- Milons ended his career with 431 punt return yards and 917 kick return yards.
- He averaged 10.0 return yards on punts and 22.9 return yards on kicks (career).
- Milons won an SEC West Division title and an SEC title with Alabama (1999).
- He made three bowl appearances with the Tide, including the 2000 FedEx Orange Bowl.
- Milons was selected in the fifth round (162nd pick) of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.
6. Willie Shelby (1973-75)
- Under Paul Bryant, Shelby was a good running back and return specialist.
- He made a critical play in the 1973 game against Kentucky.
- After three missed field goals, Shelby returned a 100-yard kick for a touchdown.
- Shelby helped Alabama win three national titles (1973-75).
- He was a member of 1973 national championship team.
- Shelby helped Alabama win a Sugar Bowl title in 1975
5. Tyrone Prothro (2003-05)
- His touchdown reception against Southern Miss (2005) grabbed headlines, but there was always something magical about Prothro as a return man.
- He mastered kick returning in 2004.
- Prothro shredded his way to 452 kick yards (26.6 yards per return) and a touchdown.
- Before his injury, Prothro totaled 774 kick return yards and a touchdown.
- He had 179 punt return yards (10.5 yards per return) in his career.
- Prothro ended his career with a 26.7 kick return average.
- He was named Second-team All-SEC in 2004.
- Prothro made ESPN’s Pontiac Game Changing Performance twice (2005).
- He made First-team All-SEC in 2005.
- His catch against Southern Miss won an ESPY for Best Play in 2006.
4. Marquis Maze (2007-11)
- Despite his size (5’8”), Maze was as tough as they come on special teams.
- 2011 was his finest season returning punts.
- Maze racked up 436 return yards (13.2 yards per return) and a touchdown.
- He put in 550 kick return yards (26.2 yards per return) in 2011.
- Maze is mostly remembered for his performance against Arkansas in 2011.
- He returned four punts for 125 yards, including an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown.
- Maze finished his career with 711 punt return yards and 550 kick returns.
- He was named Second-team All-SEC in 2011.
- Maze won an SEC title with Alabama in 2009.
- He was a two-time national champion (2009 and 2011 seasons).
3. Christion Jones (2011-present)
- He’s not Palmer or Arenas, but Jones has a chance to finish as one the greatest return men in Alabama history.
- In 2013, he put in 321 punt return yards and two touchdowns.
- Jones had 631 kick return yards and a touchdown last season.
- He is most remembered for his performance against Virginia Tech in the 2013 opener.
- Jones returned a 76-yard punt and a 94-yard kick for touchdowns.
- He’s averaged 12.1 return yards on punts and 28.3 return yards on kicks (career).
- Jones has 567 punt return yards and two touchdowns (career).
- He’s recorded 876 kick return yards and two touchdowns (career).
- Jones won a SEC title with Alabama in 2012.
- He is a two-time national champion (2011 and 2012 seasons).
2. Javier Arenas (2006-09)
- Arenas was an exceptional cornerback, but a dangerous return specialist.
- 2008 was his best season as a punt returner.
- Arenas collected 650 yards (15.9 yards per return) and three touchdowns.
- He recorded 657 kick return yards (24.3 yards per return) in 2007.
- Arenas finished his career with 1,752 punt return yards and seven touchdowns.
- He had 2,166 kick return yards (career).
- Arenas averaged 14.0 return yards on punts and 24.1 return yards on kicks (career).
- His seven punt return touchdowns broke Derek Abney’s SEC record.
- Arenas’s 1,752 punt return yards and 2,166 kick return yards are school records.
- He was a Consensus All-American and made First-team All-SEC (2009).
- Arenas was the SEC Special Teams Player of the Year (2009).
- He was an SEC Champion in 2009.
- Arenas was a member of the 2009 national championship team.
- The Kansas City Chiefs selected Arenas with the 50th pick (second round) in the 2010 NFL Draft.
- In three seasons (2010-12), Arenas totaled 1,029 punt return yards and 1,568 kick return yards.
- He is now a member of the Atlanta Falcons.
1. David Palmer (1991-93)
- Palmer became Alabama’s first all-purpose receiver.
- In 1991, he totaled 386 punt return yards (16.1 yards per return) and three touchdowns.
- Palmer recorded 439 kick return yards and averaged 22.0 yards per return.
- He finished his career with 83 punt returns for 865 yards and four touchdowns.
- Palmer collected 36 kick returns for 841 yards.
- He averaged 23.4 yards on kick returns and 10.3 yards on punt returns (career).
- Palmer was a Consensus All-American in 1993.
- He won the Paul Warfield Award in 1993.
- Palmer finished 3rd in the Heisman voting (1993).
- He won an SEC title with Alabama (1992).
- Palmer was a member of the 1992 national championship team.
- He was selected in the second round (40th pick) of the 1994 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.
- In seven seasons (1994-00), Palmer recorded 3, 274 kick return yards and 1,610 punt return yards.
- He made six playoff appearances (1994, 1996-00) with Minnesota and helped the team win three NFC Central titles (1994, 1998 and 2000).