24] Landon Collins, S
- 2014 Unanimous All-American
- 2014 All-SEC
- Second-round pick in 2015 NFL Draft
- During his first start had an 89-yard touchdown return for a touchdown against Tennessee
- As a junior led the Crimson Tide with 98 tackles, to go with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
- Team captain
The phone call was made just before the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game because if anyone could understand the situation it was Alabama safety Landon Collins.
Just two years previous the older brother had been in that very same spot, about to make a verbal commitment during a national broadcast, in his case just a couple of days before Alabama was set to play rival LSU in the BCS National Championship Game.
College football fans remember it well because at the time Collins’s mother hoped he would stay close to home, Geismar, La., located about 20 miles down I-10 from Baton Rouge, and play for the Tigers. Afterward they didn’t talk for a few days as he would come home from school and simply head upstairs to his room. It was hard on both of them.
“She came one day and picked me up at school and we went to the movies,” Collins said. “I think we saw Transformers. We just had a relaxed, calm day and talked everything out.”
When his turn came, though, the younger brother still had some lingering doubts. Prize defensive lineman Gerald Willis III also wanted to make his mark on his own, but even farther away from home to Florida. He had also seen how some people in Louisiana had made it clear that they would never forgive his brother.
Had it been worth it? What about mom? What do you think I should do?
Collins, who sort of joked that on a scale of one to 10 the recruiting pressure he felt had been “1,000,” reassured Gerald that his decision shouldn’t be about trying not to let other people down. He should go where he felt best.
"I just said follow where your heart wants to be,” said Collins, who then called it “fantastic” that he’d see his brother on an opposing sideline.
“We’ve always been competitive. It’s been a great experience for him down at Florida. I love my brother and wish him the best.”
It just helped show how far Collins had come, though.
When he first arrived at Capstone the former 5-star prospect couldn’t wait to be an every-down contributor and played with reckless abandon. Coach Nick Saban went so far as to describe him as a “beast” on special teams, and Collins was widely hailed as having the potential to be the Crimson Tide’s next great defensive back.
Although the secondary featured plenty of established players and veteran reserves, Collins claimed a spot in the starting lineup for good midway through the 2013 season. He wound up second in team tackles with 70, including four for a loss, to go with two interceptions, eight pass breakups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
With safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri subsequently leaving early for the NFL, and Alabama having a lot of uncertainty at cornerback, Collins became the secondary’s most established player ahead of schedule.
“He’s turned into a monster now,” safety Nick Perry said. “We make jokes all the time of how he used to be when he was a freshman, like a chicken with his head cut off out there. But now he’s just the commander out there. He makes the right plays, makes the great plays. He makes the right calls now. I feel like he’s comfortable in what he’s doing. He’s embracing the leadership role.”
That really began during the spring, when the only other defensive back with a set role was Jarrick Williams as the “star” — the extra defensive back in nickel formation. Collins became the primary spokesman for the group and told reporters on A-Day how pleased he was with the secondary’s progress and improved communication. He continued to pick up the mantle when representing Alabama’s defense at SEC Media Days.
“He's been probably a key guy in a leadership role,” Saban said. “The guy practices hard every day, works hard every day, team's important to him. I think the other players on the team are important to him. He has set a great example and certainly showed that he cares about the people around him and how he can affect them. I think it's been very, very good.”
Helping Collins was the return of Kirby Smart as position coach for the safeties after handling the interior linebackers the previous three seasons. Before Smart was named the 2012 Assistant Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association he won the 2009 Broyles Award as college football's top assistant coach while directly overseeing Alabama’s safeties.
“He just coaches us at a different level, trying to get us to understand it from his point of view because he played the position and he knows what’s going on; it’s his defense,” Collins said. “So basically it’s a tremendous thing for us safeties because he sits down and goes step-by-step on what we need to do and what will make us a better player.”
Collins called the first offseason of learning from Smart, “fantastic.”
“I got to work a lot on my footwork and schemes and getting my eye directions right, so you can play quicker and move and react faster.”
Teammates said the confidence boost was apparent and making a significant difference. Collins went from not being sure of himself and what he could do, to becoming the kind of player that every opposing player had to take note of before each snap.
“He's a fast guy getting to the ball, like on a reverse,” wide receiver Amari Cooper about facing Collins. “He's coming down really fast. He's always near the ball, so you have to be very aware of him.”
That he also hits like a truck contributes to that as well: “Yes he does,” Cooper added.
As for his brother, when Collins went home in the spring, Willis flashed a Gators sign at him midway through a workout, the beginning of the next stage in their rivalry (“So it’s definitely started,” he said with a smile).
Meanwhile, the hometown fans still berated him every chance they got, which only provided more motivation, and Collins talked to his mom every day on the phone. She was there when he has his final real homecoming at Tigers Stadium, and at Bryant-Denny Stadium to see her boys square off for possibly the only time during their collegiate careers — wearing a half Gator, half Crimson Tide outfit.
“She can’t support one and not the other,” Collins said.
The Saban Top 100 will be revealed over the course of the 2020 football season, with the top players unveiled one a day as part of BamaCentral's 25 Days of Christmas celebration.
The series thus far:
No. 25: Cam Robinson
26-30: Terrence Cody, Calvin Ridley, Javier Arenas, Reggie Ragland, Jedrick Wills Jr.
31-35: Dee Milliner, D.J. Fluker, Marlon Humphrey, Rashad Evans, A'Shawn Robinson
36-40: Rashaan Evans, Dre Kirkpatrick, Marcell Dareus, Eddie Jackson, O.J. Howard
41-45: Courtney Upshaw, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Henry Ruggs III, Jarran Reed, Xavier McKinney
46-50: Dalvin Tomlinson, Antoine Caldwell, Kareem Jackson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Trevon Diggs
51-55: Mike Johnson, T.J. Yeldon, Ronnie Harrison, Damien Harris, JK Scott
56-60: Ross Pierschbacher, Eddie Lacy, Bradley Bozeman, Ryan Anderson, Glen Coffee
61-65: Greg McElroy, Josh Jacobs, Anfernee Jennings, James Carpenter, Kenyan Drake
66-70: Terrell Lewis, Blake Sims, Christian Miller, Irv Smith Jr,, Tim Williams
71-75: Mack Wilson, ArDarius Stewart, Deionte Thompson, Raekwon Davis, Jalston Fowler
76-80: Josh Chapman, Cyrus Jones, Kevin Norwood, Isaiah Buggs, Jake Coker
81-85: Bo Scarbrough, Anthony Averett, Leigh Tiffin, Ed Stinson, DeQuan Menzie
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