TDA: What was the recruiting process like for you that year coming off of the epic 2008 signing class?
NJ: It was more so of we pretty much trying to stick together Me, AJ Fluker, Trent, Dre believe it or not. I got hurt and wanted to focus on my senir year and I actually committed early. We were all recurited by coach Lane thompson and he left and we didn’t know what to do. But we all just wanted to stick together, it was a fun process. Most of us already committed and we just warnted to enjoy our senior year.
TDA: What made you sign with Alabama? Were you a fan growing up?
NJ: My mom was a big Alabama fan. I would run across a lot of baby pictures with Alabama shirts on and it actually came down to Alabama, Auburn, and LSU. I felt more at home with Alabmaa at The time. Coach Tuberville was just leaving and I was close to Coach Willis. I pretty much felt I should stay in-state and I felt Alabama would give me the best opportunity to play on Sunday.
TDA: What was it like being forced into the starting role when Donta’ Hightower was lost for the season?
NJ: It’s one of those things I was pretty much prepared to be the next guy especially coming out of high school where you think you’re the guy. It was a reality check when I came there seeing guys like Rolando McClain. When Donta’ got hurt, Ro came to me and said I needed to get into my playbook fast. I was blessed, but I wasn’t really ready looking back on it at the time. It made me grow up fast. I could have been that guy that costed us games and I didn’t want to be that guy.
TDA: How did it feel to be apart of Alabama’s first national championship in 17 years?
NJ: I really didn’ thtink about it until 2011. After losing, I never won a champinship in high school and being a young guy, it was like wer’e undeafeted and all, but after the 2010 season, and how we finished, it made me respect what we did in 2009. It’s very rare to go undefeated in college football and it was a trememdous feeling. Winning two more was great, but we didnt go undefeated. We bought in as freshmen and wanted to make an impact. Trent, Dre, Fluker, and myself — we all wanted to make a difference some way some how.
TDA: Coach Saban often speaks about entitlement at times among certain players. What were things like inside the locker room following the 2009 championship?
NJ: It was one of those things where we had a lot of high drafted players on our team and our first national championship in a long time. There was a lot more attention on us because of it. Guys that were leaving were pretty much looking ahead at the task at hand. Some guys were looking to go on to the NFL. It was pretty much our worst season that I was there. Nobody was holding themselves accountable — including myself. We felt like we would show up and we would just win because we were Alabama. I remember coach Saban warning us before that South Carolina game that those guys were good, and we kinda listened to him, but we didn’t do what we neded to and got killed. The 2012 season actually motivated us to not allow that to happen again because we saw what happned in 2010, and the seniors and upperclassmen said we wouldn’t let it happen again.
TDA: How much did your time at Alabama prepare for life in the NFL as well as off the field?
NJ: It helped me very well as far as a mental aspect knowing you’re going to go through adversity. Coach Saban teaches us life lessons and life skills. One thing we prided ourselves at Bama was that we would never give up and that’s everyday life even now. That’s what separated us. That mental aspect that we wouldnt be denied. Our dreams, despite adversity, we’re going to bust our butt and not allow us to be denied for what we want. It helped big time as far as off the field as far as the experinece and knowledge. You can’t learn stuff like this everywhere, not even your parents and to do that in a sport was big for us.
TDA: Who were some players you looked up to during your time at Alabama?
NJ: Rolando McClain pretty much took me under his wing and when Donta’ got hurt, he really took me under even more and made sure I watched film with him at least three times a week and we went to his house and just hung out. He was our general and got everyone lined up. I liked how he brought that emotion and passion and performed every day of the week and I really looked up to that. Players like Donta’ Hightower and Mark Barron were also guys I looked up to because they were guys that brought it every week and held guys accountable. Also, I remember him telling me in 2010 and ’11 how important leadership was. When I was forced to be put in that role, I looked back on our conversation and to hold others accountable was something I wanted to take on. Older guys and others that responded to leadership made it better.
TDA: What was your most memorable game while at Alabama?
NJ: The 2011 LSU game. The first game, but actually both of them. That game we didn’t want them to score at all. I always remember that game because the game ended 9-6 and both sides played great defense because there were no touchdowns scored. No matter how close they go to the endzone we wouldn’t give in. We weren’t gonna be denied. It motiviated us after we lost the game that we wanted to be the number one team in the country and show everyone we were the better team. I will always remember the first and the second due to how we bounced back and shut them out which was the first time in a BCS game.
TDA: The 2011 defense has been argued to be the greatest college football defense of all-time. Talk about that defense.
NJ: We were big on at least getting three turnovers per game. We prided ourselves in practice trying to strip and create turnovers. Looking back, you never think about what you’re accomplishing until you look back at it. We did some special things in that defense and probably one of the best ever, and thinking about that and hearing people say that is special. That’s very rare and the way we played it showed. After 2010, we prided ourselves and didn’t want to do what we did and not finish. It was unreal. I look back now, and I was blessed. Years from now, I’ll look back and still feel blessed. It was something special, we had fun, we played for one another, there was no down-talking one another — it was just a complete brotherhood.
TDA: What’s the Iron Bowl like from a player’s perspective compared to the fans?
NJ: The Iron Bowl to me is the best in college football, and I personally think its the best in college football history. Fans, they don’t like one another, and with that, you have the split houses and what not. I went there four years only losing once. As players, we look at it like, ‘we don’t hate Auburn, but we MUST beat Auburn.’ So all we heard about was the six year streak Auburn had and we didn’t want that to happen to us. We’re the big brother. We don’t dislike each other, but when the lights are on, it’s time to go. When Saturday came, we wanted to beat the players across from us. Outside of the stadium though, it was a different story, we were cool with a lot of their players. The loudest stadium i played in was in 2009 when they scored those two touchdowns on us at Jordan-Hare, and it was just crazy. It’s just an unreal rivalry. I can’t even put it into words how big it was. You’re going to have bragging rights for 365 days.
TDA: How’s the transition been from college to NFL?
NJ: Because Coach Saban does a great job treating his program like an NFL program, the transition was easy. Whether it was working out or what not, he did his best to treat it like a NFL program. We were already taught how to be a pro. All of the little things like watching film etc. we were already taught that in college. As a defensive player, we talk about it all the time, some of the stuff we do in the pros is a little easier here than at Bama based on some of the stuff we had to do in college, and now being prepared to handle it.
TDA: What do you like to do outside of football? Are you involved in anything?
NJ: My mom passed away 5 years ago today. I pride myself with trying to help kids with diabetes. I’m part of a big brother program in Cincinnati and I was in one in Kansas City as well. I spend time with my family and with my teammates. I try to put on events for kids and trying to do whatever I can to inspire and motivate them.
LB C.J. Mosley
DT Jeremy Clark
LB Eryk Anders
LB DeMeco Ryans