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
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
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
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
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.”