Alabama combines blue-collar defenders with blue-chippers
By JOHN ZENOR
Sep. 14, 2017
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Anthony Averett has gone from raw recruit to two-year starting cornerback for No. 1 Alabama. Levi Wallace and Jamey Mosely can top that: They began their Crimson Tide careers as walk-ons.
All three have started games this season for the Tide, blue collar defenders carving out roles alongside the blue-chippers on a defense replacing seven NFL draft picks.
It's unclear who start against Colorado State on Saturday, but all of them are expected to contribute.
Linebacker Keith Holcombe said hard-working grinders are "the backbone of our team."
"Those guys who aren't going to get in trouble or anything like that," Holcombe said. "They're just going to put their head down and grind and do whatever they have to do to help the team win."
Wallace and Mosley were among four first-time defensive starters against Fresno State , including Holcombe and more highly touted defensive lineman Raekwon Davis.
The senior Averett had his first career interception against Fresno State and is second on the team with 10 tackles. Saban saw speed, athleticism and potential in the 6-foot, 185-pound two-way player and high school track star, who played safety at Woodbury (New Jersey) High School.
Saban said it often takes longer for players to develop when they're switching positions in college. The fact that they put in that kind of work and time can make them good role models for younger teammates.
"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."
Averett isn't a newcomer to the top of the depth chart but he has been overshadowed by bigger names in the secondary, including 2017 first-round pick Marlon Humphrey and now potential first-rounders Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison.
"Everybody has a story. When you first come here, everybody doesn't get to play right away," said Averett, who had the top prep long jump in the nation in 2013. "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. So I think that's very important to have that bunch on the squad."
Wallace and Mosley followed more improbable paths than him to their current roles.
Wallace didn't have any scholarship offers out of high school in Tuscon, Arizona. He came to Alabama to study business, and has his degree — and an interception against Florida State .
Father Walter Wallace passed away after battling ALS on the morning of Alabama's spring game a few months after Wallace enrolled. But not before encouraging his son to give college football a shot.
"He just said he believed in me, he always believed in me and my abilities," Wallace said after the Florida State game. "He said, 'You're a great football player, so you might as well give it a shot and see where things go.'"
Wallace and Mosley were awarded scholarships at the end of fall camp last year. No longer a walk-on, Wallace played in 11 games last season, seeing time on both special teams and defense. He and sophomore Trevon Diggs have competed for the job, and Diggs started against Florida State.
"I've always believed in my abilities," Wallace said. "But you know, Coach Saban does a great job of developing players, walk-ons and five-stars as well."
That includes Mosley, the younger brother of former Tide and current Baltimore Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley. Mosley started against Fresno State after four linebackers were injured in the opener, including two lost for the season.
Starters Rashaan Evans and Anfernee Jennings are trying to make their way back.
The 6-foot-5 Mosley has beefed up since arriving as a walk-on in 2014. Then he was listed at 210 pounds, now at 248.
"He's worked really, really hard," Saban said. "He's gotten a lot bigger and a lot stronger. Very conscientious guy who it's very important to him to know what to do and exactly how to do it, do his job well. And I think that's why he's been able to make a contribution to the team."
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