College football is known for its traditions, pageantry and excitement every Saturday in the fall. But more than that, college football is known for traditions. For example, some colleges and universities over the years have become known by different nicknames. The University of Tennessee was widely known at one time as Wide Receiver U (and is still called that by some fans today). With a great receiver like Carl Pickens at Tennessee, who can blame them for being given that nickname? Currently in college football, there is not very many teams with these types of monikers. But there is one that is quickly building a reputation at a certain position.
Ever since Nick Saban has been at Alabama, he has resurrected the tradition that Bear Bryant started. In his seven years, Saban has gone 79-15 with three national championships. Every year it seems a given that the Crimson Tide will be in the running for the national title. Last year they were in the running until this painful play happened:
But along with the runs at national titles, another tradition has begun at Alabama. And it resides in the defensive backfield.
It all began with safety Mark Barron. Barron was a star in the state of Alabama in high school. He played at St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile, Alabama, where he played running back, linebacker and wide receiver. Barron was one of the first big recruits that Saban was able to pull to Alabama. Originally recruited as a linebacker (#1 weakside linebacker in the class of 2008), Saban transitioned Barron to safety, where he started from his sophomore to his senior year. Barron went on to record 12 career interceptions, 237 total tackles and 1 forced fumble for his career. And not only was he a playmaker on the ball, but he was known to lay ferocious hits like this:
Barron, after his illustrious career at Alabama, was picked 7th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He may be still finding his niche in the NFL as a starting safety, but he was the beginning of a tradition at Alabama.
When Barron moved on to the NFL, the next safety stepped in. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a five-star safety from Orlando, Florida, was a top recruit that Saban was able to lure to Tuscaloosa. In his first season, he was parked behind Barron and the depth at safety. But while he did not start, he was able to jump in and get some playing time, as he was one of seven freshman to contribute on the 2011 team. But after Barron left for the NFL, the show officially belonged to Clinton-Dix. He made 37 total tackles, but what separated him from Barron was his ball skills. Clinton-Dix would have five interceptions his sophomore season, pushing himself into the upper echelon of defensive players in the college football. Check out his ball skills at work here:
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray never saw him camping out in the middle of the field. Clinton-Dix’s numbers went down his junior year, but with his cover skills at safety and his length, he still was able to leave school early and become a first-round pick (21st overall) of the Green Bay Packers. It should be exciting seeing him mature into an excellent NFL safety.
But even with Clinton-Dix gone, the safety tradition still goes on. Who can forget high school All-American Landon Collins committing to Alabama despite his mother wanting him to go to LSU?
Landon stuck to his commitment to Alabama and he mainly contributed on special teams. But it was this play versus Tennessee that officially put him on the map in college football:
Heading into the 2014 season, Landon Collins has the potential to be one of the top safeties in America. With his coverage skills, size and speed, it is expected that he will carry on the tradition of Alabama safety play and eventually become a first-round draft pick just like Clinton-Dix and Barron before him. And what’s interesting is his chance almost never came. It was only when starting safety Vinny Sunseri went down with an injury that he truly got his chance to make a mark at Alabama.
Alabama is known for winning, playing physical defense and running the football. But now they will be known as university that produces top-notch talent at the safety position. Alabama University, better known now as Safety U.