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The Saban Top 100: No 81-85

The Saban Top 100: No 81-85

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The Saban Top 100: Ranking the Best Alabama Players of the Nick Saban Era, No. 81-85

BamaCentral is ranking the top 100 players of the Nick Saban era at Alabama over the course of the 2020 football season

81] Bo Scarbrough, RB

  • Seventh-round selection 2018 NFL Draft
  • Finished career with 1,512 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns
  • Best stretch was in the 2016 postseason when he had 46 carries for 364 yards and six touchdowns and averaged 7.9 yards per carry. With 19 carries for 180 yards and two touchdowns was Offensive MVP of playoff semifinal against Washington
  • Had 93 rushing yards and two touchdowns in first half of 2016 title game against Clemson before suffering a leg injury

Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough was consistent in how he looked back on his biggest games with the Crimson Tide, and his collegiate career.

His 180-yard performance against Washington and notching at least 90 rushing yards during each of the Crimson Tide’s final four games of the 2016 season? He didn’t want to talk about it.

His broken leg during the third quarter against Clemson if the national title game? He didn’t want to talk about that either. “That book is closed," Scarbrough said. "The past is the past and I can’t talk about the past.

“I’m really focused on what’s going on right now.”

Scarbrough had a lot of experience dealing with both extremes and over the years learned that the key to looking back was to simply not to. Learn what you can and move on, because if you live in the past that’s where you’ll be and not zeroed in on what’s next.

At least that’s his approach.

When he did move forward, though, like against the Huskies or with his 109-yard rushing yards on five carries at Tennessee, Scarbrough was as exciting as anyone in college football. He could as easily go through defenders as around them, plus had the kind of burst every running back desires. His ceiling and potential were enormous, yet getting to that point had been anything but easy.

The short version included becoming not just a good prospect, but elite one at Northridge High School in Tuscaloosa, transferring to Tuscaloosa County across town, playing his senior season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and then going back to Tuscaloosa County to graduate.

He initially committed to Alabama in Sept. 2012, but ended up in the recruiting class of 2014, and sat out the 2014 season due to academic issues. The 2015 season began with a four-game NCAA suspension “for something that happened when he was being recruited in high school. Not by us,” Nick Saban said.

Meanwhile, there were injuries, including a pair of torn ACLs and leg fractures. He was one short of a full house of major physical setbacks.

"I mean, you can’t avoid injury," Scarbrough said. "Whatever happens, happens. “You have to have that mindset and be mentally strong.”

One can see why Scarbrough didn’t want to talk about his road to the NFL, and how answering one questoin about it could lead to countless more. About the only thing he offered on dealing with the frustration was that he couldn’t let it stop him.

"You have to work on the days you don’t feel like working," he said. "Those are the days that you get better and stronger." 

82] Anthony Averett, DB

  • Fourth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft
  • Moved into starting role at cornerback during junior year. Had a team-leading eight pass breakups and a pair of forced fumbles
  • As a senior had 48 tackles, including four for a loss, and tied for second on the team with eight pass breakups.

Three years. That’s how long it took for senior cornerback Anthony Averett to be fully confident that he knew what he was doing in Nick Saban’s secondary.

Having previously only played on offense in high school, in addition to being a track freak, the position was just as new to him as moving to the South. Recruited from New Jersey, where Saban also found startng defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, Averett’s acclimation period was anything but brief.

But it was successful.

“Everybody has a story,” Averett said. “When you first come here, everybody doesn’t get to play right away. I was one of those guys that didn’t. I think it plays out. I’m not the only one. There’s a lot of us that really went through that same process like me. I think it’s very important. It shows maturity.

“I think that’s very important to have that bunch on the squad.”

Averett’s story included a little bit of everything. He was considered a good prospect with a ton of speed, yet wasn’t one of Alabama’s ballyhooed 5-stars signees. Listed as 6-foot, 185 pounds, he’s not the biggest player at his position and it took tome for Crimson Tide fans to see No. 28 at such a key position.

However, he’s the kind of player one almost can’t help root for regardless of whatever team’s your favorite.

Averett could have gone to a lot of other schools and probably been a good wide receiver, only he recognized his greatest potential was as a defensive back. So he made the tougher choice, to basically start from scratch on the most talent-laden roster in the nation and work his way up.

Not a lot players would have done that. He’s one of the reasons why Saban said during the 2017 season, “I sort of like this team,” and was impressed with both its chemistry and overall character.

It was a hard-working group of players who weren’t into, excuse the pun, cutting corners. They were a collection of big, strong and fast talents on the field, and come across as regular guys off it. Team stars even played on special teams.

Averett fit in nicely.

“We think that you have to have some guys like Anthony Averett in the program who are willing to make the sacrifices to spend the time to develop so that they can become a really good player,” Saban said. “I think his example of that is something that other players should look at.”

He had been a starter on the turnover-happy unit of 2016, with just about everyone else not only notching one but having a return for a touchdown, but Averett didn’t record his first interception until facing Fresno State during his 23 career game.

Judging by how his teammates celebrated after he made the pickoff, they were genuinely happy for him.

“It’s like the backbone of the team,” linebacker Keith Holcombe said. “You don’t want to have guys going out there and getting in trouble all of the time and coming out and playing great and everybody making a big name about just themselves. It’s all about the team. You have guys like Anthony and Jamey [Mosley], guys who just keep their head down and keep grinding and keep pounding and keep working hard and getting better. That’s what you want.

“That’s how we want to be remembered and that’s how we want to have our team shaped.”

83] Leigh Tiffin, K

  • 2009 All-American
  • 2009 All-SEC

Five things to know about Leigh Tiffin:

- Like father, like son: Tiffin’s father, Van, was also an Alabama kicker, and made the famous 52-yard field goal as time expired for a 25-23 victory in the 1985 Iron Bowl.

- Won starting job as a sophomore in 2007. Made all 36 extra-point attempts and was 25 of 34 on field-goal attempts.

- Against Mississippi State became only the second kicker in Alabama football history to make two 50-plus yard field goals in a game, the other being his father

- Was 20 of 29 on field goals as a junior.

- Made 87.9 percent of field goals as a senior (30 of 35), and became Alabama’s all-time leader scorer with 350 points.

84] Ed Stinson, DE

  • Fifth-round selection in 2014 NFL Draft
  • Two-year starter who played in 48 games
  • Had 101 career tackles, including 15.5 for a loss

A Q&A with Ed Stinson

In many ways, Ed Stinson was exactly the kind of player a coach wants to have on his roster.

While playing in a defensive scheme in which linemen frequently fill gaps and take on blockers in order for someone else to make the play, he played different positions and did everything that had been asked of him.

“He has been a consistent performer,” Nick Saban said in 2013. “He has played a of good football here. Been on a lot of good defensive teams and always has done his job extremely well. He certainly turned into being a good leader who sets a good example for other people. We are hopeful he can continue to stay healthy and do good things for us in the future here as his senior year kind of winds up.

“He’s done a great job for us.”

Q: Is it true you used to sell game programs for the Miami Dolphins as a kid?

“Not game programs. It was a concession stand. I used to sell like food, and sometimes it would be like Dolphins novelty items, like the teddy bears, that kind of thing.”

Q: Was being there a big thing to you or was it more a way to get a few dollars?

“It was really to raise money for my basketball team, because I played basketball coming up, the majority of my life.”

Q: When do you start gearing things more towards football?

“My basketball coaches started talking to me, beginning of my 11-grade year. My 11-grade year was the first time I ever sat down and took football seriously. The crazy thing is, when I was younger I always wanted to be a running back. When I moved out with my mom and moved in with my dad, I got into basketball because the local program that was after school, they had basketball. I started to learn that and started to like it.”

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Q: It was your first organized sport?

“Yeah, that I really like took seriously. I hadn’t played football, and the time I did try to play I had bad nose bleeds – they would just happen and I wouldn’t even notice it – I couldn’t pass my physical. So I couldn’t play, and I was bigger than the kids in my age group, so I would have to play with kids who were like 12 and 13 when I was 10, so my mom wouldn’t let me play.”

Q: Was there one person in particular who directed you more toward football?

“Yeah, my assistant basketball coach Cedric Brown. The coaches always wanted me play but, outside of maybe my freshman year, I was playing tight end then, but after that I went straight into basketball season. I didn’t play (football the next year), I was focused on basketball and I was going to a lot of basketball camps. My junior year, my coach told me I needed to play more than one sport. Considering how big I was we thought football would be an easier sport to get into than basketball, and how much easier it is to get drafted in football than it is in basketball and stuff like that.”

Q: So how did you end up at Alabama?

“My first offer was from FIU, and after FIU then they really started coming in. After FIU I got Florida State, Miami, then LSU, then Alabama came after LSU. After they saw LSU recruited me I guess they thought they should too. Coach Bobby (Williams) was the one who recruited me. My parents, they liked the Alabama program so that’s how I ended up here.”

Q: Long way from home, though.

“Yeah. They wanted me to come up here though. I liked LSU, but my parents wanted me to look again at Alabama.”

Q: Do did it mean a lot to you to go back down to the Miami area and win the national championship?

“Yes. It was good playing LSU too, but I have one loss against them.”

Q: Something that jumps out in your statistics are the number of games played. Have you ever missed a game due to an injury?

“No. I haven’t missed a game, I haven’t missed a practice.”

Q: How have you managed to do that?

“I guess mental toughness. As I was growing up I was sort of always like the toughest one (around) anyway. I’ve always been like that. That’s why they gave me the nickname “Bamm Bamm,” tough and strong … and bad (laughs). Like the Flintstones.”

85] DeQuan Menzie, DB

  • 2011 All-American
  • Fifth-round selection in 2012 NFL Draft
  • The junior-college transfer played in 25 games, with 18 starts
  • Had 11 pass breakups as a senior, to go with 37 tackles
  • Retuned only career interception for a 25-yard touchdown against Arkansas

It wasn’t anything overly difficult. There was no collision and it wasn’t like he got twisted around and went down in a heap.

DeQuan Menzie, then just an Alabama commitment, was simply playing basketball, bringing the ball up-court, when his worst fear became reality on a simple crossover move.

“Snap.”

“It was really like a freak accident,” Menzie said. “It’s painful as well as it’s loud. Everyone heard the snap. It was loud, like a shotgun. They didn’t know what happened. I thought I had just sprained my ankle, but it was way worse than that.”

Menzie snapped an Achilles, which outside of a knee can be nearly as bad of an injury as an athlete can sustain. The cornerback was coming off being named a second-team All-American at Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College, where he had tallied 51 tackles, including 36 solo stops, and one interception, and was considered one of the top prospects in the nation.

He had been recruited by Crimson Tide, his mother had openly cried in front of Nick Saban about the possibility of playing for him (“I knew had to come here after that,” Menzie said), and suddenly everything was in doubt.

Yes, Menzie’s came a long way, never mind being from Carver High School in Columbus Ga., or being a part of a pretty elite group of junior-college transfers trying to replicate the All-American success of nose tackle Terrence Cody, including defensive linemen Jessie Williams and Quinton Dial, and wide receiver Duron Carter.

“I thought it was over for that season,” Menzie said. “I didn’t think I was going to play.”

He did of course, and then beat the odds again.

After having surgery April 1, 2010, rehab was a “terrible” and painful process that for many takes at least six months, only Menzie put in the work and recuperated faster than expected. He didn’t plan it that way or expected it, but certainly didn’t want to redshirt.

Over the summer, he was able to start walking again, and noticed that there was a little motion in his foot. That led to some jogging, followed by a treadmill. Pretty soon Menzie was running by himself on a track, trying to get his footwork back.

That’s when he started thinking maybe, just maybe, he could come back and play without missing a season.

Nevertheless, when fall practice opened, it was still “overwhelming.”

“The defense isn’t easy,” he said. “You don’t just pick it up like that, like we have three calls and that’s it. There’s a whole playbook that you have to learn.”

Saban’s playbook wasn’t known for its simplicity, especially before spread offenses evolved.

“Oh, man, forever,” Menzie said about how long it took to learn. “It seems like forever. Once you get out on the field and learn, you have to do it and not just learn it on paper.”

Menzie also had the advantage of having Saban work with him each and every day, as he has always worked with the cornerbacks during practice. The Crimson Tide had to replace every starter except safety Mark Barron, so it probably got to the point that he saw the coach in his sleep.

But Saban helped Menzie learn the scheme as quickly as possible, in addition to improve his man coverage and footwork.

“I think it’s great,” Menzie said. “Playing for Saban is a great opportunity.”

The coaching staff eyed him for the right cornerback job, but the time off combined with overcompensating and sudden strain on his legs led to a hamstring pull early in the season. They instead went with freshman Dee Milliner, who had been a five-star recruit, and made Menzie the nickel back, which was a little easier physically and essentially as good as starting considering how often the Crimson Tide used an extra defensive back.

Menzie played in 11 games with six starts, and made 31 tackles including three for a loss and broke up four passes. About the only thing he didn’t do, and obviously would have liked, was get that first interception with Alabama.

“I thought all the plays I made were special because I was playing at a D1 level,” he said. “It was my first time playing in the SEC.”

It wasn’t until his senior year when fans started to get real taste for how good Menzie could be. He had played the previous season at maybe 75-80 percent, but had the best spring of all the defensive backs.

The senior was quietly referred to by many as the Crimson Tide’s best cover man and he was atop the depth chart at right cornerback by the end of fall camp. While he called that “Awesome,” Menzie responded by being named one of defensive players of week by the coaching staff for his performance against Kent State.

Three weeks later came an interception, against Arkansas.

“I never thought I would be at this level to tell you the truth,” he said. “High school wasn’t my strong point, that’s why I went to junior college. I didn’t like school at all. When I got here I started to notice that I needed school. It’s just a great opportunity to play here.”

Which leads to how Menzie beat the odds again, and finish something ahead of expected. He graduated early and his major should be obvious.

“Physical therapy.” 

This story is a preview of the kind of content that will soon be part of our premium page, BamaCentral+

The Saban Top 100 will be revealed over the course of the 2020 football season. The series thus far:

Introduction

86-90: Jesse Williams, Shaun Dion Hamilton, William Vlachos, Da'Shawn Hand, Arie Kouandjio 

91-95: Nico Johnson, Wallace Gilberry, DJ Hall, Vinnie Sunseri, Quinton Dial

96-100: Trey DePriest, Damion Square, Christion Jones, John Parker Wilson, Simeon Castille 

81] Bo Scarbrough, RB

  • Seventh-round selection 2018 NFL Draft
  • Finished career with 1,512 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns
  • Best stretch was in the 2016 postseason when he had 46 carries for 364 yards and six touchdowns and averaged 7.9 yards per carry. With 19 carries for 180 yards and two touchdowns was Offensive MVP of playoff semifinal against Washington
  • Had 93 rushing yards and two touchdowns in first half of 2016 title game against Clemson before suffering a leg injury
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