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All Things CW: Alabama's Biggest Loser is the Talk of the Tide in Camp

We already know the biggest surprise for the Crimson Tide, former Alabama players in the NFL as well as 5 things that got our attention this week.

When he arrived in Tuscaloosa as an early enrollee in January, he tipped the scales at 416 pounds. 

Now he's down to 342 and was doing backflips when Alabama opened fall camp last week. 

The Crimson Tide will play its first scrimmage of the fall Saturday, but defensive lineman Jaheim Oatis has already locked down the status of biggest surprise of the 2022 training camp. 

Actually, that statement needs to be amended. Considering that Alabama had been recruiting him since eighth grade, and knew of his ability and potential, the surprise is that he's been able to improve and develop so much in such a short period of time.  

“I’m very excited about Jaheim," junior linebacker Will Anderson Jr. said. "He’s great. He comes to work every day, and he’s a hard worker. 

"A lot of big guys, they would complain about being that big and having to lose that type of weight. But he came here, head down, worked hard, lost the weight. He’s moving good. For a guy that size to move like that, it’s crazy."

Oatis' weight transformation happened so fast that the official roster on the team website still has him down at 370 pounds, which is also telling because when players often top 350 pounds teams are often reluctant to list their true weight. 

Despite his hefty size, Oatis was considered a consensus four-star prospect out of Columbia, Miss. Sports Illustrated had him rated the highest among the major recruiting sites at No. 67 in the SI99, just ahead of the 247 composite at No. 70. 

"He's always been a great kid," said Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding, who starting recruiting Oatis back when he was in eighth grade. "When he expected to come to Alabama he knew what it was going to take, he knew it was going to be hard. He could have gone to a lot of places where he wouldn’t be asked to do what he would be asked to do here. 

"His knew weight was the biggest thing we had to focus on, and that ended up being one of the biggest [reasons for his] decision to come here was the nutrition with Miss Amy (Bragg), the strength and conditioning , to develop him and get him down to where he needed to be to play good, winning football. And he’s been an unbelievable guy with that, so I’m excited about him."

Oatis has a long way to go, but all indications are that he's making a push to be part of the defensive line rotation this season. 

More on Oatis 

Anderson: "Sometimes, I get distracted watching film, watching him take on blocks. It’s like a steel wall, like he’s not moving. He gets those one-on-ones and he’s in the backfield like this fast. It’s great watching him.”

Golding: Jahiem has got a lot more wiggle than you guys think he’s got. So he’s a guy internally that if you leave one guy on him, good luck.

Nick Saban: "Well, it's a work in progress, and he certainly made a lot of progress. He's a much better player where he is right now than he was the other way."

It also needs to be mentioned that Oatis' impressive transformation occurred despite the following. This is something Alabama released this past week: 

The Most Surprising NFL Player

While Oatis is the surprise of the Crimson Tide camp so far, his counterpart at the NFL level is former Alabama guard Lester Cotton Sr. 

Out of Central High School here in Tuscaloosa, he played four years with the Crimson Tide and started 28 games, including 10 at left guard and 18 at right guard.

But he wasn't drafted and signed with the Raiders as a free agent. 

Cotton played in one game as a rookie in 2019 after joining the club as an undrafted free agent, but didn't make the team in 2020. After rededicating himself to football, he came back and played in three games in 2021, while spending the entire season on the team's practice squad.

So far it doesn't look like he'll be going back. Cotton is listed first on the Raiders depth chart at right guard and is expected to start Monday's game against the Vikings. 

Here's some of what he said during a recent press conference, courtesy of SI Raiders site on FanNation:  

Q: Was there a wakeup call? Or something you realized you had to do this season?

Cotton Sr.: “Yeah, for sure. When I got released in 2020, my second year. It was a big wakeup call. I spent 10 months out and I had to really look myself in the mirror and say if this is what I’m going to do, I have to lock in and be 110 percent. That’s what I’ve been doing every single day.”

Q: Seeing how you had to work your way up in Alabama. Has that process helped you in the NFL?

Cotton Sr.: “For sure. At Bama it’s a lot of five stars, four stars all the way through the roster. You have a lot of people who are first rounders, second rounders, third, going into the draft to get a chance. Every day you’re going and competing with the top guys. They are either going to make or break you. He was true on that.”

Q: How does it feel to receive a Samson award (team's weight room honor)?

Cotton Sr.: “Man, that’s an honor. It’s like winning a Super Bowl to me. Everybody knows I went through a lot of tough times. It was real rough for me in the beginning. I had to grow out of it and mature some and coach A.J. [Neibel], Coach Deuce [Gruden], all those guys in there put me together and covered me with their wings and kept me going forward. Even when I wasn’t here, they were checking in, dialing in, making sure I was doing what I had to do so that when my shot came, I would be prepared and ready.”

Q: Any particular family members or even teammates that stuck with you through those times?

Cotton Sr.: “Yeah, my wife and my kids. My former teammates and the teammates I got now reached out and was making sure I was doing what I had to do. I gave it to my wife though because she was my real deal backbone. She was the one who was there in the dog days when I was saying I just wanted to put it up. She pushed me. She told me I had to get up. She told me I had to go because you don’t want to have any regrets. I give all the thanks to her.”

Q: What there a moment where you said I can really do this?

Cotton Sr.: “Yeah. I had a few moments, like last year playing in overtime against the Chargers to go into the playoffs. Playing in that game and seeing how fun it was. It gave me a fiery edge to me knowing that I can really do this. If I just put in the effort and do what the coaches are saying and dial in each and every day, I can really make this like a real deal dream come true.”

Odd Odds

Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young went from being the favorite to win the award again in December, to oddsmakers preferring Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud during the offseason. 

Don't look now, but Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams, who initially had 12-1 odds, is now the second favorite at 7-2 (or +350). Stroud is listed by SportsBetting.ag at 3-1, with Young at 5-1. 

After the three frontrunners no one else is listed at better than at 25-1, which is a group of four players including Anderson and three quarterbacks (North Carolina State's Devin Leary, Oklahoma's Dillon Gabriel, and Miami's Tyler Van Dyke the others). 

Running back Jahmyr Gibbs is 33-1.

Former Crimson Tide quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who is only a redshirt junior for head coach Michael Locksley at Maryland, is 150-1.

Not One Finalist, But Two 

Congratulations to Haylie McCleney and Lindsey Zurbrugg who were both named finalists for the Women’s Sports Foundation’s 2022 Team Sportswoman of the Year Award.

McCleney helped Team USA win the silver at the Olympic Games Tokyo. She had a .529 average during the tournament. Along with active pitcher Montana Fouts, the former Crimson Tide All-American  recently helped Team USA win the softball gold medal at the World Games in Birmingham. 

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Zurbrugg scored the winning point to clinch Alabama's national championship in wheelchair basketball in March. She was also a 2020 Paralympic Games bronze medalist with Team USA, and led Team USA in scoring. 

Voting concludes at sportswomanoftheyear.com on August 22. 

Lindsey Zurbrugg, Alabama Women's Wheelchair Basketball

Lindsey Zurbrugg helped lead the Crimson Tide to the national championship.

Tide-Bits

• Former Alabama football player Kerry Goode announced that he'll be one of this year's winners of the Paul W. Bryant Alumni-Athlete Award, by the Alabama Alumni Association. Selection is based on character, contributions to society, professional achievement and service to others.

• Alabama at Texas is the college football game most in demand on StubHub, with the Texas A&M game at Bryant-Denny Stadium third, and the Iron Bowl sixth. Second was Notre Dame at Ohio State on Sept. 3. Also of note, the average price of tickets sold for Alabama's opener against Utah State on Sept. 3 was $108 as of Friday.

• Joe Lunardi of ESPN did a bracketology update earlier this week and had Alabama in the exact same grouping as before, but in a different setting. As the No. 6 seed in the South, it would face St. John's in Columbus, Ohio, with the winner advancing to face the survivor of Duke vs. Iona. He previously had them playing in Greensboro, N.C. It'll be interesting to see the next update following the Crimson Tide's impressive win against China in Paris

• Remember that line Saban gave about iron sharpening iron during Alabama's practices? Cornerback Patrick Surtain II told reporters in Denver about working against wide receiver Jerry Jeudy every day: "He sharpens my skill set and I sharpen his."

• Taking a picture of a player's locker is usually considered a no-no unless it's something like this:

5 Things That Got Our Attention This Week 

1) Not Like Father, Like Son 

Although Greg Byrne has followed in the footsteps of his father Bill, who was a highly respected athletic director at Oregon, Nebraska and Texas A&M, he's gone with a very different approach when it comes to fundraising at Alabama.  

“The reality is if you have the right fundraiser who’s out there getting in front of people, waving the flag and getting people fired up, people are going to feel more of a connection, and it proved to be very fruitful," Byrne said on the podcast From The Chair with Mike Hamilton, the former Tennessee athletic director. "We have not done that at Alabama. We’re pretty centrally located in the state that we can get to a lot of places pretty quickly, but we have our fundraisers in Tuscaloosa assigned to different (regional) territories. And they shake the trees and see what comes out.”

Obviously it's working pretty well. When Alabama announced plans to move forward with a new arena in February, the school announced that more than $470 million had already been raised for the The Crimson Standard, the 10-year, $600 million capital initiative created in 2018. 

2) Sankey eyeing NCAA Tournament expansion 

Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey told Sports Illustrated's Pat Forde that he wants to take “a fresh look” at the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, perhaps with an eye toward expansion of the current 68-team field.

“I thought [SEC member] Texas A&M should have been in the field in basketball [last season],” Sankey said. “People didn’t agree. But the way they played at the end of the year, I firmly think they were one of the better teams in the country. I’m biased. But somebody else, Dayton was one of the first four out.

“Look at what UCLA did as an 11-seed [in 2021], what Virginia Commonwealth did as an 11-seed [in 2011], what Syracuse did as an 11-seed [in 2018]. Those are three teams that played [in the First Four] in Dayton and went to the Final Four eventually. It should broaden our thinking.”

One model that has been raised elsewhere is going up to 80 teams, with a quartet of First Fours, one at each region. 

“Just take a fresh look at all of it,” Sankey added. “As we think collectively, everyone goes to the corner and says, ‘I have to hang on to what’s mine.’ But how do we contribute and build it better together?”

3) Safety base coming to college softball

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel gave the thumbs up this week to softball using a double first base on an experimental basis for the 2022-23 academic year.

The safety base, which Alabama coach Patrick Murphy has been pushing for as an easy way to decrease collisions at first base, allows the fielder to use half the base and the batter-runner to use the other half.

The one catch is that both teams will have to agree to use the double first base during regular-season games.

In another move that's been a long time coming, the panel approved a requirement that all sideline and home run fences constructed of wood, concrete or brick be padded by Jan. 1, 2027. The big holdup to the the new rule has been cost. 

4) Colleges still need to be prepared

Covid cases have been on the rise in Alabama since April, but many medical experts are encouraging colleges and universities to begin preparing for possible monkeypox outbreaks on college campuses. 

“There’s definitely potential for colleges to become a hotbed for infection,” said Rachel Cox, an assistant professor of nursing who studies infectious disease and epidemiology at the MGH Institute of Health Professions. “After two years of social isolation, students are likely going to be interested in heavy socialization."

Alabama, the state, has only had 30 of the 11,000-plus cases in the United States, but students are returning to campus and more than 50 percent are from out-of-state. 

5) Dedication 

As someone who used to cover Pat, this took me back a bit. 

Well done, Arizona. 

The Latest Saban Rumor 

After a new book claimed that Saban had meetings about potentially leaving Alabama for ESPN in 2014, the coach told the Dan Patrick Show this week that 'I've never been tempted to leave Alabama."

The former ESPN personality Patrick asked him when was the last time he thought about stepping down. 

"I don’t really think about retiring,” Saban answered. “I always think about what the heck am I going to do if I do retire? That’s a scary thought.”

He added: “There’s nothing that I want to do. Like some people want to go to Europe or go to Scotland and play golf and all that, I wouldn’t mind doing all that stuff, but I don’t have to quit my job to do it. I worry about what am I going to do if I don’t do this?"

Did You Notice?

Sports Illustrated did a deep dive on collectives and found some surprising things. For example, billionaire Miami booster John Ruiz said he's unsure if he'll continue signing so many student-athletes to NIL deals (61 this year): "Next year, it becomes standard. People pay less attention, so you get less return on your investment."

• Why the ESPN–Big Ten Split Shocked College Sports, and How It Impacts Everyone

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Christopher Walsh's notes column All Things CW appears every week on BamaCentral.