TDA: What made you walk on at Alabama? Were you always a fan? Did you have any scholarship offers out of high school?
RJ: I had three offers. Two partial offers: One to West Alabama and one to North Alabama. And The Citadel offered me a football scholarship after seeing me play basketball. I went on an unofficial to Alabama against Arkansas and after the game I just knew I wanted to be here. After the game it just sparked something in me that this is where I want to be. I was always a fan, but not over the top like it was Alabama or nothing.
TDA: Talk about that first A Day game as a running back. It seems you made a name for yourself and an impression on coaches.
RJ: There were a lot of guys hurt and it was just me and a few guys and I was excited to think that I could play running back the next season after having a successful spring. That game increased my role in finding ways to get me on the field. My work was what got me noticed. I was going to do everything 100%. I was practicing every single day like it was a real game. Other guys were saying stuff to me like I was going too hard, but they had something I wanted. They had their school paid for and I was sitting in the stands on game days.
TDA: How did you embrace your role on special teams? You seemed to bring it every single Saturday.
RJ: I embraced it as it was my role. It was like my job. On the football field, no person’s job is more important than the other. To me, if I did this well, I could possibly play what I wanted which was running back at the time. I felt that if I kept doing big things I would eventually get noticed and make them have to use me.
TDA: What was it like as a walk on? Were you treated any differently by coaches? Players?
RJ: It was kind of different. Especially from my first day. I was not a preferred walk-on. My first day was when school started. For me, I came in with a whole new class of guys. My first day I went to register for classes and we went to the indoor facility and they simply tried to break us. Every time we made a mistake, they made us run. They just kept running us until they made people quit. We had our own weight lifting sessions that were really tough. We would come in with our own workout away from the team and then there was this one time they had us come in on a Saturday morning about 6:30. We just started running around the whole field for about an hour. Just nonstop running and after that, they said you guys made it. Then, we got with the team and some guys acted spoiled towards the walk-ons, but when my work started speaking for itself, it helped. The guys treated me differently after my first year because my first year I was redshirting and not playing on Saturdays.
To them, while they could see I had talent, I wasn’t helping. It was tough because I would go so hard but it didn’t matter to them until they saw I could actually contribute to the team, and then I got more respect.
TDA: When did you know you could hang with those guys and eventually become a scholarship player?
RJ: I felt more confident by the end of my freshman year but not until my redshirt freshman year that I actually got a chance to play on special teams. Coming in on the film room and coaches and other guys were like,’Look at this play!’ and that I could get it done and possibly get a scholarship. That to me was confirmation that stamped that I could compete.
TDA: How were you informed that you would be placed on schoarlship? What was that feeling like?
RJ: It was a tremendous feeling. It actually came with disappointment first though. It was the spring after the first semester, and coach Sparky Woods called me and said, ‘You may not play running back at Bama, but we may have an opportunity for you. (Roman) Harper and (Charlie) Peprah are leaving and would you consider switching over to safety? If so, you would have an opportunity to play next year.’ After that, I showed I could play and right after the bowl game, Shula called me to his office and told me they were putting me on scholarship and I was just happy. My mom was crying, and my dad was really silent and I knew that meant he was happy.
My mom took on two jobs and my dad took money out of his 401k just to make sure that happened. They were true believers of my talent. My dad played football and he was a straitghforward guy. He knew what I could do and he believed in me. I remember when I was about to walk-on, and he would push me when I would become relaxed. He would say things like, ‘Oh, you don’t need to work out today huh? You’re already on the team at Alabama right? Oh OK, you’re good.’ When he would say those things, I would get up and go workout right then. He really kept me grounded and made sure I was ready when I got to Alabama.
TDA: You came in under Coach Shula and ended with Coach Saban. How was it like playing for both?
RJ: I really enjoyed playing for both guys. Personally, Shula holds a huge place in my heart for how he treated me in looking at me as a player and not just a walk-on. He allowed guys to grow up and not be all on you. He was more laid back, and gave you a little more freedom. I loved that about him. It was actually more like a NFL environment in the locker room with that type of mentality and I liked that.
With Saban it was discipline and details. Everything was mapped out. He had someone checking on you for classes, taking you to classes, it was a grind and he demanded excellence, and our first year we just weren’t ready for that. It helped us though because he proved it in his approach everyday, and he’s the same person everyday that demands excellence. Anybody associated with Alabama football is expected to hold a standard of excellence and I learned so much about the game from details and how to be a football player and how to be a safety. I loved playing for Coach Saban.
TDA: You were pretty much undersized your entire time at Alabama. What about your style of play allowed you to be elite among SEC sized players?
RJ: What separated me was that I didn’t believe there was a safety in college football that understood the game like me. I understood so many things that determine the play before they even ran it. I learned that from Coach Smart and Coach Saban. Some guys line up and have no idea what they’re doing. Smart and Saban taught me that certain tendencies teams would do that allowed me to see what was going on. God just gave me a gift to understand football. I feel now, that I could go to a new locker room and understand a playbook quickly. I’m not a Sean Taylor freak athlete, but the mental separated me.
TDA: One of the more memorable games Alabama fans have of you is that 2008 LSU game. Talk about that game and the impact you made with those three interceptions.
RJ: That game is one I will never forget. My mom called me on that Friday and she was asking me h0w I was doing. She said, ‘I couldn’t sleep and I just prayed.’ She said, ‘God told me you’re going to have the best game of your life.’ I’m like, alright mom *laughter*. But the ball seemed to just find me the whole game. The last play in overtime was a play that they started going to a lot on third down. For the past 5-6 third downs where the number one receiver was running a comeback route and the number two receiver was running a post. They kept going to the number one all game, but I knew he would get greedy and come over the top eventually, and I just ran straight to the number two receiver and I caught it and that pretty much sealed the game.
TDA: You guys were minutes away from sending Alabama to its first national championship in years. There had to have been a letdown after the SEC Championship game. What happened in that Utah game?
RJ: It was tough being a leader after that. It seemed like it was really hard to get guys going for that game. All season long we were getting guys motivated, but the entire time for the Utah game after not playing for a national championship, the practices weren’t sharp or intense, and it was hard to get guys going, even after trying. And before I knew it we were down 21-0 and it was too much of a hurdle to get out of and I give those guys credit, they came out and hit us in the mouth.
TDA: How were you able to put on that weight for the combine so fast and not be affected by it?
RJ: As soon as the last game was over, I left and went to Pensacola and started training from there. What I was hearing was that I’m smart, I can cover, but I’m too small. I went to Athletic Performance and I was really strict on my diet and my workouts and I took it serious. Some guys were down there like they were on a vacation, but I really took it serious.
TDA: What’s the biggest transition from college to NFL?
RJ: The biggest for me was that it was a business. College, you’re here for four years, but NFL its a business. They’re always looking to replace you. It’s a consistent battle to prove yourself no matter how you did the year before. That’s been the biggest transition for me.
TDA: What’s it been like as a starter for the Cardinals?
RJ: It’s been a blast. Everything I thought it would be. My first three to four years, I wasn’t a full-time starter. I had to work to be where I am and to get that opportunity last season it was a great feeling leading my team in tackles and defensive touchdowns. It was a testament to the work I put in, but I still have my better years ahead me.
TDA: How did it feel beating Auburn 36-0 after the 6 year drought?
RJ: Man, it was the best feeling. THE best feeling. As a senior and never beating Auburn and to beat them 36-0 and dominating them like that, I felt amazing. I still have a picture in my house with all of the seniors with the score in the background.
TDA: What’s that rivalry like as a player?
RJ: It was a true rivalry. Childhood friends of mine that were Auburn fans didn’t care that I went to Bama. They didn’t talk to me much before the game, it was definitely a true rivalry. That week of practice, you hated the other team. There is an entire year of bragging rights and it’s definitely the best (rivalry) in college football.
TDA: What was your most memorable game as a player?
RJ: That 2008 LSU game. That was definitely my most memorable game.
TDA: What do you do outside of football?
RJ: I do charity work, I have a foundation that’s called Walkons Of Champions. It’s mainly for the younger generations to know that no matter what you want to accomplish, you can do it. I do a youth football camp in Arizona. I also have a free camp in Sulligent, AL I’ve been doing for the past 5 years. New Pathway for Youth is another organization I’m apart of, under privileged teens who were abused and had a rough childhood. We buy Christmas presents, shoes, go trick or treating in my neighborhood. God has blessed me tremendously giving me more than I ever asked for. I take it as a way to show God’s love through me to them. And I try to share with them that if nobody cares, God does.
TDA: What are you up to now?
RJ: Living life, enjoying life, bettering myself daily as a man. Bettering my faith and my Christian walk and finding my purpose and walking it out daily.