Alabama tailback Yeldon not shy about ambitions

T.J. Yeldon might be top-ranked Alabama’s next great tailback

but that doesn’t mean he’s eager to chat about it.

The Crimson Tide’s reticent runner said he doesn’t like doing

media interviews and that he seldom gets recognized on campus.

Chatty or not, it probably won’t be possible for Yeldon to maintain

that low profile as he takes over the lead role in `Bama’s

backfield after shining on national stages as a freshman.

”I just don’t really like talking,” Yeldon said. ”But I can’t

run from it, so I get used to it. It doesn’t bother me now.”

He isn’t running from his ambition to be the best Alabama

tailback ever.

Yeldon follows BCS championship game MVP Eddie Lacy, who

replaced 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson, who

succeeded 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram. Richardson and Ingram

have turned in the top two single-season rushing performances in

school history and been first-round NFL draft picks.

There’s little doubt Yeldon can be another strong link in that

chain.

The Crimson Tide are ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press

preseason college football poll that was released Saturday and

Yeldon will play a major role in their attempt to become the first

team to win three straight national titles.

He set Alabama’s freshman record with 1,108 yards and finished

with huge performances in the SEC and national title games. One

thing Yeldon isn’t shy about is his ambition to outshine his recent

predecessors and other Tide tailbacks like former NFL MVP Shaun

Alexander and Bobby Humphrey.

”I’m always going to be motivated,” he said. ”I’m just trying

to be the best I can be, the best running back to ever come through

here.”

Yeldon arrived in Tuscaloosa in January 2012 – after initially

committing to rival Auburn – as a coveted recruit. He captivated

fans with an MVP performance in the spring game and became the

first Alabama freshman to debut with a 100-yard performance on

national TV against Michigan.

He racked up 153 yards against Georgia in the SEC title game and

followed that with 108 yards against Notre Dame. Coach Nick Saban

said he’s ”a complete player” who knows the offense and can block

and catch, too.

”We expect him to have a great year,” Saban said, ”and we’re

hopeful that he’ll be able to stay healthy.”

Coaches and teammates unanimously responded with ”quiet” when

asked to describe Yeldon’s personality but also say he has a funny

side.

He was happily shielded from interviews most of last season

because of Saban’s policy keeping freshmen off-limits.

Yeldon’s reaction to the biggest play of his career perhaps sums

up his public demeanor.

After catching a game-winning touchdown pass against LSU, he

kind of half-flapped his arms while looking into the stands. Then

he walked along the sidelines, helmet still on, barely pausing for

congratulations from coaches and a back-slap from Ingram.

To Daphne High School coach Glenn Vickery, that’s just T.J.

”You could almost see a smile underneath that helmet,” said

Vickery, Yeldon’s coach from middle school through high school.

”That’s his emotion. You didn’t see any kind of dance, you didn’t

see any kind of movement.”

Yeldon, who often lined up as a slot receiver early in his prep

career, scored the winning touchdown in the 2010 state championship

game after lining up at Wildcat quarterback. He had also joined the

varsity late in the season as a 9th-grader.

”He returned a kickoff about 99 yards against Pace High School

out of Florida, and Pace High School’s pretty darn good,” Vickery

said. ”You saw it coming.”

Yeldon had only 11 catches last season, but his old coach said

he has ”very similar type hands” to another south Alabama

product, Atlanta Falcons and ex-Tide receiver Julio Jones.

Vickery also recalled the U.S. Army All-American Game, where

Yeldon was content to let other highly rated backs like Texas-bound

Malcolm Brown and Barry Sanders, who signed with Stanford, get much

of the attention. At least until he caught a pass in the flat, made

a nifty move and hurdled a defender.

”When you see T.J., he was that five-star recruit and now he’s

a Heisman candidate but he’d just as soon sit in the back of the

locker room and talk to his teammates and do what kids do,”

Vickery said. ”He’d rather somebody else get the limelight and the

camera. He didn’t beat his own chest. He didn’t walk around

celebrating that he was a four-star or five-star recruit.

”His personality’s different than a lot of those kids that just

want to announce it and talk about it. He’s a quiet kid.”