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Terrion Arnold and the Greatest Media Weekend I've Ever Witnessed

With media attention at a sky-high level, Arnold recently put on a public speaking clinic at the NFL Scouting Combine.

INDIANAPOLIS — In sports, the term "generational performance" is commonly used to describe an athlete who played an unbelievable game. 

Terrion Arnold had one recently at the NFL Scouting Combine, but it wasn't on the field. On the field, he performed decently — nothing he did was particularly eye-popping. However, Arnold didn't need to do anything crazy — his Alabama tape speaks for itself. He's arguably the top cornerback in the 2024 class and could easily be taken in the top 12. 

Rather, his generational performance came when he wasn't doing anything athletic. His star shined the brightest when he was talking to cameras, which is a little odd considering the silent power a camera (and a microphone, too) has on a person, especially someone as young as Arnold.  

Cameras are comfort destroyers. They can take any confidence a person has and snatch it from them instantly. During media sessions, cameras became an invasive species at the Indiana Convention Center, which is where all of of the pressers happened. Both the big network cameras as well as smartphones swarmed prospects the second they took the stand. 

On that note, let's throw in a pool of hungry reporters trying to mine quotes out of prospects with verbal pickaxes. For some, this is a gauntlet; these reporters can be real wild cards. The questions can range from football to whether birds are real to whether holding out of the Combine makes you afraid to compete. Those 15 minutes are essentially samplers of who these prospects are as people and how they handle themselves under a spotlight.

Now, it's not like college athletes (especially elite football players) aren't trained in how to talk to the media. Plenty of prospects answered questions with poise that looked like it'd been built over years of experience. Caleb Williams, who had a rocky relationship with the media while at USC, exuded a high level of tranquility and level-headedness, even when his character was questioned. Amidst a similarly large crowd, Drake Maye answered questions like a seasoned veteran.  

Arnold, however, was on a completely different stratosphere.

To preface, I haven't followed Alabama as closely as most of you have. I made my BamaCentral debut just last week, and this was the first time I'd witnessed Arnold talk in-person. While I had a surface-level awareness of Arnold's character — the awesome cornerback, the well-spoken man, the best friend of Nick Saban's wife, Miss Terry — I wasn't aware that Arnold could take a naturally uncomfortable setting and make a slumber party out of it quite like he did at the Combine. 

At one point, he was asked what he thought made him the best cornerback in the 2024 class. 

"My mindset," Arnold said. "Any time I line up, it doesn't matter who I'm going against, I'm coming to dominate. We're all at the Combine, you're here, eyes are on me, and I perform."

The same could be said for his presser; all eyes were on him, and he performed. Thursday saw each reporter in attendance unexpectedly board a train of enlightenment. Facing questions about his career, his answers made me think he could become a pastor, motivational speaker or anything that involved talking to a crowd. When most prospects gave a sampler of their character, Arnold doled out a three-course meal that'll probably satisfy whichever NFL team decides to take him in April. 

In the 15 minutes he talked, the cameras and microphones didn't seem to bother him at all. In fact, it felt like he knew what the questions were going to be ahead of time. I know that because, well, he said it himself. 

"It's deja vu. I've already seen it in a dream," Arnold said when asked what being at the Combine meant to him. "I was in front of y'all, talking to y'all."

Arnold painted pictures of a confidently humble man. He was an excellent storyteller, something that's very difficult to do off the top of the head. 

In the middle of his presser, he was asked about where his confidence came from. That triggered an answer that I don't think a single person could've guessed. 

"My grandad was a roofer," Arnold said. "I like to correlate roofing to football. My grandad always told me on the one's coming to save you. So when I'm on that roof, and I'm on that 8x12, 10x12 and it's a high pitch walking up there, you slippin' on the fiber glass, you kinda get a little rocky, get a little shaky, you know that if you lose confidence in yourself, you're going to slip and fall."

"It's the same way with playing corner and being a human being. If you don't have that type of confidence to come in and take over a room and have that presence, nobody else is going to have that confidence in you."

That humble confidence was apparent the moment he took the podium. There's a special kind of energy with him that makes his words sparkle. No room seems unconquerable 

For one, Arnold spent a lot of time praising his teammates. He said that Jalen Milroe would get to Alabama's practice facility at 3:30 a.m. and that he should be on the cover of EA Sports College Football 25. He said that Jermaine Burton was the toughest player he had to cover in college, and that was before he explained how him keeping up Jameson Williams made him believe he was eventually going to excel at Alabama. He called Caleb Downs his best friend, Kool-Aid McKinstry an awesome running mate and Pat Surtain II the best cornerback in the NFL.

Not only that, Arnold also showed vulnerability, too. He took reporters on a journey all the way back to high school when he hit a valley in his career. 

"I broke my ankle in 10th grade. I would say I was at a very low point in my life. Started to doubt myself. My grandad, my mother, they picked me up," Arnold said. "Just from then on, I never lost {confidence} after that, because I know what it's like to be on top and lose it all. In this world, they just build you up 'cause they want to see you fall, so I never get too high, never get too low."

Arnold also entailed a low point in his collegiate career, which came on the heels of Alabama falling in a shootout to Tennessee in 2022. That game saw the Crimson Tide secondary get torched for 385 passing yards, with 207 of those coming from Jalin Hyatt. The one to feel arguably the biggest negative consequences was Arnold, who was a redshirt freshman at the time. 

"I got benched, and I've been telling all the NFL teams that right there, it changed everything for me," Arnold said. "I kind of like to say I had my Michael Jordan moment. I write it down every day. Eli Ricks, that's my brother. But when I got benched and replaced [by] him, it motivated me.

"I write it down every day and say I refuse to ever let that happen again. And that's what's going to lead me and take me to getting that gold jacket, which is the Hall of Fame. The gold jacket, and I ain't talking about the one you could buy."

Even when speaking on low moments in his career, there was a swagger about Arnold that implied an inability to let adversity define him. 

But somehow, none of the above quotes were his best one. Rather, it came shortly after he said the Combine felt like deja vu. He credited his success to God and how he was raised, which led into Arnold turning into Tony Robbins for a few moments.  

"I always like to say my favorite bible verse is Matthew 25:12. It just talks about 'he who humbles himself should be exalted, and he who is exalted shall be humbled'," Arnold said. "So I humble myself. I treat everyone with respect. I know to treat the janitor like the CEO. You never know who you'll come in contact with. At the end of the day, you just want to give your family a good last name and try to leave a legacy."

Two life lessons and a bible verse in one quote?! That's like if Arnold made a one-handed interception, hurdled the quarterback and backflipped into the end zone, except with words instead of his arms and legs.

Now, I'm not going to be the guy to say that he slightly misquoted the Bible, how he flipped around the verse and how that's actually the subject of Matthew 23:12 and not Matthew 25:12. The point is that he was able to deliver a beautifully-worded statement off the top of his head that few people in sports can probably do. 

And the best part? He wasn't even done owning the spotlight. During defensive back drills, Arnold talked to NFL Network's Stacey Dales on the sidelines of Lucas Oil Stadium. As their conversation was about to conclude, Arnold did something I've never seen any athlete do: he broke the fourth wall and started talking to a hypothetical audience, specifically his mother, Tamala. 

"Mom, if you're watching this right now, your son just wants to say how proud he is of you," Arnold said. "You had me at a young age, and you overcame a lot of adversity. People were doubting you, people were counting you out, and honestly Mom, like I always tell you, you raised a star.

"So, zoom in right here. I just want to say, Tamala Arnold, I love you. I'm right here, the whole world is watching, and I'm blessed to have you as a mom. Like I said, you overcame a lot, and with that being said, I'm gonna continue to keep shining, just like you raised me to be. I'll never forget where I came from, Tallahassee, Florida, it's the hardest place to make it out of.

"And everybody watching this back at home, I hope you're proud of me. Because I gave it my all. Y'all tune into pro day, because it's gonna be a show. Like I said, right here, the Combine, I had to come out here and compete. But this was just a warmup, just kind of getting my feet wet."

Remember when Arnold talked about his "Michael Jordan moment" earlier? This was also a Michael Jordan moment, but in a different way. This was like Jordan dropping 63 points against the Boston Celtics as a sophomore in the 1986 playoffs, an introduction to greatness at the highest level. The message was clear, heartfelt and certainly tear-jerking. 

What was also impressive was that Arnold said all of that after a workout. Usually, players don't have the clearest answers to questions during or after games because they're naturally more focused on catching their breath than answering a question in-depth (former NBA star Blake Griffin did a funny bit about this on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon a few years ago). And yet, Arnold still delivered a touching message to his mom with little, if any verbal hiccups. His control of the scene and ability to mold it how he wanted was unprecedented. 

Sure, not everything is about the interviews. There likely isn't a perfectly positive correlation between how good someone is at interviewing and how good they are at their job. But not only is Arnold good at his job, he proved once again that he can be someone an organization would be more than happy to have as a face of its franchise. 

For some, cameras and microphones turn them into a lesser version of themselves. For Arnold, it brings out the absolute best in him, which is a person any NFL team would be lucky to have.