“Secure the ball. Hold it high and tight.” Alabama’s running backs coach Burton Burns has preached this message since joining the Crimson Tide in 2007. He has witnessed three Southeastern Conference titles, three national championships and a Heisman winner in his eight-year tenure. Burns is an offensive mind, yet it didn’t stop him from helping Alabama land a future first-round pick on the opposite side of the ball.
January 5, 2012 still stands as a historic day in the SEC. Alabama hates Tennessee and Auburn, but a special loathe lies between the Crimson Tide and LSU. Tension is felt on the field, but the hatred intensifies in recruiting. Alabama’s safety Landon Collins is a Louisiana native. A former five-star prospect, Collins was known as an all-purpose athlete at Dutchtown High School.
Defensively, Collins was a game changer. He recorded 162 tackles and nine interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns. Collins played on both sides of the ball as a senior. He showed promised as a star running back, totaling 1,218 yards and 21 touchdowns. Collins was the first player in Louisiana Sports Writers Association history to earn 5A All-State honors on both sides of the ball.
Collins graduated Dutchtown as one of the top safeties nationally. He enjoyed his visit to Alabama, but he hailed from New Orleans. Burns constantly recruited Collins. He saw Collins’s 4.39 (s) 40-time and his 43.5-inch vertical. Burns wanted Collins as a running back, but Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban had other plans. The choice between Alabama and LSU weighed heavy on him, but Collins made his decision on ESPNU after the 2012 Under Armour All-American Game. Fashion was his way of choosing, as Collins donned a pair of Alabama gloves and a Crimson Tide hat. Collins’s mother, April Justin, was highly displeased, but in three seasons Collins has become an integral part of Alabama’s defense.
Collins was worth the hype as a freshman. He accounted for 17 tackles, including 10 on special teams (tied for team lead) in 2012. Collins’s productivity on coverage teams earned him a spot in the secondary. He started six games at strong safety in 2013, registering 70 tackles (second on the team), six pass breakups (team high), two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Collins’s big moment came against Tennessee. He intercepted a ball off quarterback Justin Worley and took it 89 yards for a touchdown.
He’s a physical defensive back with exceptional on ball skills, but Collins’s finest work has come in run support this season. His ability to tackle in space, take away angles and make punishing hits on opposing running backs has been special. Opponents have averaged 88.6 rushing yards (2.8 yards per carry) and three touchdowns against Alabama’s defense.
Alabama lost C.J. Mosley, Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri to the National Football League in 2014, but Collins emerged as its anchor. He leads the team with 91 tackles, three interceptions, six pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Two of Collins’s three interceptions came at critical moments. His interception off Arkansas’s quarterback Brandon Allen secured a 14-13 victory for Alabama. Collins was one of three Crimson Tide players that intercepted Mississippi State’s quarterback Dak Prescott. Alabama defeated the Bulldogs 25-20, and Prescott was removed from Heisman contention.
Some people are leaders by example, while others love to voice their opinions. Collins excels at both. He took Cyrus Jones and Geno Smith under his wing this season. Jones was toyed with a lot in 2013, but he has matured into Alabama’s best coverage cornerback. He has 44 stops, two interceptions and leads the team with nine pass breakups. Smith suffered a sophomore slump last season, but came strong to end the 2014 regular season. Smith totaled 50 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup. Collins’s play has even sparked fifth-year senior Nick Perry. Perry has struggled for much of his career, but came alive this season. He is fourth on the team in tackles (74). Perry has two interceptions and six pass breakups.
Alabama is two wins away from its 16th national title, and its fourth championship under Saban. Collins has had some big moments, but none bigger than his return home against LSU on Nov. 8, 2014. He recorded seven tackles, including some big hits on LSU’s running back Leonard Fournette. Alabama defeated the Tigers 20-13, capturing Collins’s third straight win over LSU.
“Just want to show [LSU] them I picked the right team, definitely, that we’re the dominant force, that we’re the best team in the SEC,” Landon Collins said to Saturday Down South. “Show them that basically, I picked the better team.”
Collins along with former Alabama players Eddie Lacy and Kenny Bell have taken recruits from Louisiana and placed them in Tuscaloosa. Collins’s decision in 2012 opened the door for Cameron Sims, Cameron Robinson and Laurence “Hootie” Jones. All three players are Louisiana natives. All three men came to Alabama in its 2014 recruiting class.
Collins’s heroic efforts have earned him a national championship in 2012 and two SEC titles in 2012 and 2014. He was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award and Jim Thorpe Award. The Walter Camp Football Foundation and Phil Steele named Collins to their first-team All-American lists. He’s accomplished a lot, but the main thing is that Collins now joins former Alabama players Mark Barron, DeMarcus “Dee” Milliner and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as defensive backs that made All-American teams.
Barron, Milliner and Clinton-Dix all are in the NFL. Collins will join them, if he chooses to declare after this season. He is listed among the top safeties in the 2015 NFL Draft class. Here is a breakdown of all four All-American defensive backs, and what they did in their All-American season (s) at Alabama.
|Alabama’s All-American Secondary|
|M. Barron||2010-11||143/5||11||1 SEC, 2 national|
|D. Milliner||2012||51/2||18||1 SEC, 2 national|
|H. Clinton-Dix||2013||51/2||4||1 SEC, 2 national|
|L. Collins||2014||91/3||6||2 SEC, 1 national|