He is the most entertaining and explosive player on the field, but his greatest work in returning the University of Alabama back to the College Football Playoff has come off the field.
A matchup against Tennessee in week five of its season was a bittersweet moment for Alabama fans.
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Some people directed the blame at Nick Saban for having Jaylen Waddle on kickoff return; nevertheless, these are also the same ones that rejoiced when Waddle broke a huge play for a touchdown. It is the coach’s fault for wanting to play his best players?
Saban has been fighting this thought, especially after what happened to Tua Tagovailoa in 2019.
A right ankle injury caused the Crimson Tide to lose Waddle for the remainder of the regular season. The issue forced DeVonta Smith to step up and like his former teammate, Henry Ruggs III, the senior struggled to not blame himself for the mishap.
No matter how many times the family of Rod Scott tells Ruggs it was not his fault, the Montgomery (Ala.) native will always carry a feeling of guilt in the death of his best friend.
For the receiver nicknamed “The Slim Reaper,” Smith told reporters that he was responsible for telling Waddle to stay in the end zone on the opening kickoff against the Volunteers. But … how does one say “No” to a gifted player that creates so much good fortune, especially when he touches the ball? Smith did not have the heart to keep Waddle back and honestly, one cannot blame him. Eddie Jackson probably wanted to tell Minkah Fitzpatrick to take a knee in the end zone in 2016 versus Arkansas after recording an interception, but Jackson felt like Fitzpatrick could score on the play.
In knowing Waddle’s speed, Smith felt the same way.
The absence of the native Texan through six games prompted Smith to take over. He emerged from being “2nd and 26” to dismantling every defensive secondary in college football.
Whether it he was doubled or triple covered in some instances, the Louisiana native looked at Mac Jones and said ‘get me the ball.’ He recorded five 100-yard performances with Waddle out, including a pair of 200-yard outings against Mississippi State (203) and LSU (231).
His success in both matchups and the Tide’s meeting with Auburn had Waddle feeling sorry for defenses in the SEC. Smith saved his finest moment for the SEC title game, where he collected a game-record and school-record for receptions (15) and totaled 184 yards receiving with two touchdowns.
He went to assistant coaches Steve Sarkisian (offensive coordinator) and Holman Wiggins (wide receivers’ coach) and promised both he can handle more responsibilities on offense.
Although he came in the 2017 class as the underrated receiver, Smith has blossomed into being the best wide out to play at Alabama.
He has accomplished many awards thus far and is a finalist for the Heisman Memorial Trophy.
For him, he credits God for the opportunity and he also looks at Waddle as a major inspiration.
“When he went down, he just made me want to set the role to do more, just feeling that it’s a big player that we lost, and I just wanted to do more for the team, do whatever I can for the team,” Smith said of Waddle on Tuesday. “He’s helped me a lot, just with the things that he sees when he’s at the game. He talks to me about things that he see. He’s still on the sideline helping us with the offensive things like that, and just being here in the film room, just on the things that he sees. So he helps me and the other players a lot.”
He is younger than the 2017 class, but Waddle builds on the character athlete that Saban loves.
Before his injury, the junior had 25 catches for 557 yards with four scores. He averaged 23 yards per catch.
Waddle has been strong in his rehab and has been out of his walking boot for a while.
The 5-foot-10, 182-pounder wants to return to action, but it will be based on if the medical staff feels like he is ready. Regardless of what happens, having him on the sideline has sparked the team to be back in the CFP. Should he not be able to play, Alabama is prepared to win a national championship for him and Landon Dickerson.
Waddle is one of the glue guys, and it was a glue guy that positioned Smith for a chance to win the Heisman.
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