It’s wasn’t until Josh Jacobs got to Alabama that he realized how far he’d come.
In less than a year, he’d gone from a Wildcat quarterback at a little-known high school in Tulsa, Okla. to earning significant playing time as a running back for the best college football team in the country. Growing up, Jacobs wasn’t sure where he’d sleep next or when his next meal would come. He often spent nights sleeping on the floor of motels or in his father’s car. Now, he was scoring touchdowns in the SEC.
“For a long time [my family] didn’t talk about it,” Jacobs says about his unstable home situation growing up. “I didn’t realize how bad it was at the time. I didn’t know it wasn’t normal.”
Jacobs’s recruitment started far later than most prospects who Alabama scouted. He didn’t receive a single Division I offer until his senior year, and by the time anyone from the Crimson Tide saw him in person, football season was over—running backs coach Burton Burns had to watch him play basketball to gauge Jacobs’s physicality. He liked what he saw, and head coach Nick Saban signed off after watching his football film. The day Jacobs signed with Alabama, his son Braxton was born.
Upon arriving in Tuscaloosa, Jacobs earned playing time as a true freshman despite being one of the lower-rated recruits on the roster. In three years playing for the Crimson Tide, Jacobs never saw a fully-featured role as a runner; he only carried the ball 20 or more times once in his career. But, he also did a little bit of everything. He became a weapon as a receiver and kick returner, and he even covered kicks, which star players don’t often do. Saban has praised Jacobs for never asking to come out of the game.
Jacobs had surgery on his ankle after a sophomore season mired in injury, which he calls “one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through.”
“I’ve always been a person who’s like, ‘Oh, I’ll play through injury,’” Jacobs said. “But when you actually have to sit down, not being able to walk, seeing your leg being smaller than the other one, and just having to rehab constantly, it’s definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through. It was a lot of emotions through that process.”
Rehab behind him, Jacobs came back for the 2018 season reinvigorated. In the first game of the season, he took a kickoff back 77 yards for a touchdown. Against the best defense in the country in Mississippi State, Jacobs rushed for 97 yards on a career-high 20 carries. At the end of the season, he solidified his NFL stock by ripping off a 59-yard run against Georgia in the SEC Championship and totaling 158 all-purpose yards against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
With the draft rapidly approaching, Jacobs is the consensus top running back in the draft. There are some questions as to whether any running backs will get taken in the first round, though Jacobs is the only one even in the discussion. Jacobs says he doesn’t have a preferred destination, though he spoke glowingly about playing basketball with members of the Colts brass in Indianapolis. The Colts, along with the Raiders and Eagles late in the first round, are logical landing spots for Jacobs.
The MMQB asked Jacobs a few questions about how his journey has shaped him, how he sees himself fitting in at the next level and more.
The MMQB: What should other people take away from your journey?
Josh Jacobs: I know other people are going through similar things. I [want them to] look at me and see me do positive things, and then also do positive things and strive for bigger things. Don’t let anybody put limitations on you.
The MMQB: When did you realize you could make it to the next level and play in the NFL?
JJ: Probably the Oklahoma game, going into the championship game. I was getting a lot of media buzz after the Georgia game, and a lot of coaches were telling me, ‘you should come out.’ That’s when I thought about it.
The MMQB: How would you describe yourself as a running back?
JJ: Diverse, because I like to play mind games. I really think of it like chess when I’m playing football—I set people up, whether I run you over one play, and then I juke you the next play.
The MMQB: What’s an example of those mind games playing out on the field?
JJ: Definitely the Oklahoma game. When I ran a dude over in the end zone, every play I got the ball after that, [the defense] was looking for me to run them over. You’ll notice, the next three runs I was making people miss just because they were expecting that.
The MMQB: Being in a running back by committee system at Alabama, what’s it like to balance having fresh legs but also not having as many carries?
JJ: It’s not that bad because I feel great. Not only that, everybody [in the NFL] is rotating [running backs]. It’s the new trend honestly and it’s also going to help me last and have a longer NFL career. Being there physically in a play is alright, but you can always be there mentally. You can come in [after taking plays off] and it’s like you’re not missing a beat. So, mentally focusing in on the game helps you find the flow.
The MMQB: Why should an NFL team draft Josh Jacobs in the first round?
JJ: Everybody asks this question. I would say probably because I do everything well. You could put me in almost every position on offense, whether it’s in the slot or out wide. I run the ball, I can catch the ball, I can pass protect. And then character, off the field stuff, everything checks out. Teams bring up every [meeting], I played special teams too. — Caleb Friedman
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