To My Brothers

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Eddie Jackson, Team Captain / Alabama - The Players' Tribune

To my brothers,

In the past four years, I’ve been blessed to accomplish a lot of the goals I set for myself when I first decided to attend Alabama. I’ve been named an All-American, I’ve won a national championship and I’ve earned my college degree. I’m really proud of all of those things, but the accomplishment that means the most to me is being voted one of your captains earlier this month.

I mean, there are … no words. I appreciate you. That’s all.

It’s a role I take seriously, so even though I won’t be on the field on Saturday, I wanted to share some thoughts and to let you all know that I’m still with you.

I’m not going to lie to you guys, the past few of months have been pretty tough.

When I broke my leg against A&M in October, it was one of the worst days of my life. It just didn’t seem fair. That wasn’t how my career at Alabama was supposed to end.

When I found out my season was over, I couldn’t stop crying. I think what made me the most upset was knowing that I’d have to miss out on all the fun we were going to have. Playing good football is hard work. It takes hours and hours of sweat and preparation. You have to push yourself to a level you didn’t think was possible. But ultimately it’s all worth it, because as everyone in this program knows, playing good football is — more than anything else — really, really fun.

Like I’m never going to forget the touchdown that Jonathan scored against Ole Miss this year. To watch that big dude rumble 75 yards into the end zone was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. I was like a fan on the field jumping up and down and laughing like, Oh, my God! I can’t believe this!

I loved the feeling I got every time I caught a punt and then looked upfield at all the guys in front of me setting up their blocks perfectly. My eyes would get superwide and I would think, Oh baby! That was the best. That’s what made all the practice worth it.

I just want you all to know what a pleasure it’s been to have fun with you guys for the past four years.

The thing about playing at Bama is that, while there’s a lot of respect for the program’s history — and for all the great players who came before — the guys you look up to the most are the juniors and seniors you played with as freshmen. Those guys were larger than life when we first got here, and they showed us how to follow in their footsteps.

Eddie Jackson

I was such a different person when I first arrived in Tuscaloosa. I showed up here as a three-star wide receiver from Florida who hadn’t played high school football until his senior year. At first, like a lot of freshmen, I was scared to death that I was out of my league. Yes, I had wanted to attend Alabama because it was Alabama, but I don’t think I fully realized until I actually got here the sacrifices I’d have to make in order to play. I didn’t just have to learn how to be a defensive back; I had to learn how to be a coachable human being.

I’ll never forget lining up against Amari Cooper one day in practice when I was a freshman. He was just destroying me — making me look silly on every single play. I was embarrassed. At some point I looked over at Coach Saban, begging for some relief. Coach looked back at me and yelled, “Eddie, I’m not taking him off you, so you better get used to it!”

We ran another play. I got roasted again. And then, as we were walking back to the line, Coop said to me, “Every play you go up against me, you’re getting better. I’m gonna have you live next year, son!”

He was right. If I could cover Coop in practice, there was no other player in the nation who was going to intimidate me. That’s the advantage we have over everybody else. We earn all our experience the hard way on the practice field in Tuscaloosa against future early-round draft picks. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it was a privilege to get beat by guys like that. That’s how I learned. And even when I knew I was screwing up, it was my teammates who tried to keep my chin up. I could miss three assignments in 10 plays, but when I came off the field my boys would be saying, “Damn Eddie, you look good out there! You’re gonna be beasting guys soon.”

And when I broke my leg this season, it was you guys who lifted me up and let me know you had my back. I was just talking to Calvin Ridley the other day about how much I miss being on the field with all of you. But being away from the team has given me a chance to watch how you guys play from a different perspective, and it’s made me appreciate what we have here that much more.

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At Alabama you’re either teaching or you’re learning — always. The reason we’re a great team has nothing to do with external pressure or anything else like that. What pushes this program to a higher level is that each of you demand the very best out of each other. If you build up your teammates, it all comes back. Hootie’s next interception might come because of pressure that Dalvin put on the quarterback. Dalvin’s next sack might come because of Ryan spying a quarterback and freezing him up. Our next victory might come because you did your job so well that the guy in front of you was able to do his that much better. Play by play, that’s how we win here.

So looking back, I think it’s kind of funny how worried I was about not fitting in when I first got here. The truth is, when you arrive on campus, it doesn’t matter where you went to high school or how many stars were next to your name. The guys who are caught up in that stuff don’t last long here anyhow. Your entire goal should be to live up to the standard that the player in front of you on the depth chart has set.

When I think about my fellow captains — Cam, Reuben and Jonathan — as well as the other seniors on this team, I feel a lot of pride about how much we’ve grown over the years. Playing at Bama is bigger than winning one national championship. Winning championships is the expectation. But playing here is also about becoming the very best possible version of yourself, and then showcasing that for the world. If you can do that, all of your other goals will fall in line.

That’s what I look forward to watching this Saturday, a bunch of great players showcasing themselves at their very best.

I know exactly what you guys have gone through to get to this point. You aren’t going to win by some miracle. You guys will win because you deserve it. The teams who try to get by on talent aren’t playing for anything. You guys have just as much talent as anybody, but you’ve combined it with the work. You’ve put your trust in the best coaching staff in the nation, and in turn they’ve molded you into men.

If you can survive early morning summer workouts, you can tackle any running back.

If you can survive the fourth quarter program in the spring, you can open a hole through any defensive line.

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11: Eddie Jackson #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates with his teammates after a play against the Clemson Tigers during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Now you’re up against the toughest challenge you’ve had to face all season. But I know you guys are ready for the test because every team we play gives us their best shot. We are the national championship game for most teams.

What distinguishes us is not our expectation to win, but rather it’s our refusal to lose. The difference between this team and all the others isn’t just found in what happens on the field, it’s also found in how we handle our business on the sidelines. The teams we beat get down when we start making plays. They might be jumping up and down, hollering during pregame, but by the third quarter they’re usually sitting quietly with their heads in their hands.

But that’s not how we operate.

On our sideline, there are no separate units. The defensive guys pump up the offensive guys, and vice versa. If another team makes a play against us, nobody believes we’re beat. Instead, we rally around each other. We pump each other up and shout, “That’s all they’re getting this game! That’s the only play!” And we all believe it. That kind of thinking is our edge. That confidence is what makes us champions. Keep that positive energy. We’re in this together.

When you’re on the field on Saturday, look at the man next to you. Look at how hard he’s going. If you’re not trying to match his effort and then surpass it, then you need to pick it up a notch. This is the moment you’ve been working for since you got that first letter postmarked Tuscaloosa in your mailbox. Remember the excitement you felt that day, and let it out. You’re doing it, man. You’re here.

I would give anything to be able to take the field with my brothers one more time. So when you go out there, put every bit of yourself into every single play.

Every single play.

You never know when it might be your last.

Roll Tide!

Eddie

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