t’s never easy to leave home.
There’s always anxiety. Your comfort zone disappears. Everything can seem so … uncertain.
I knew when I left Montgomery a few years back for Tuscaloosa that it was going to be a challenge. Even though I was super excited to be heading to Bama, and the two towns are only about 100 miles apart, I still struggled a bit.
Beyond just being away from my family, I arrived on campus with a heavy heart. My best friend from back home, Rod Scott, had passed away the previous year from injuries suffered in a car crash.
And when I got to Bama, I was still reeling.
Rod was my best friend in the world. But he was also a mentor, a confidant, someone who I could confide in about literally anything. And we did everything together.
We even looked alike.
People would meet us for the first time and think we were twins.
Courtesy of Henry Ruggs III
When I moved to Tuscaloosa that summer, I honestly didn’t know how it was going to go for me. It was just … a lot. And for the first couple of days, I pretty much kept quiet and stayed to myself — just trying to handle my business and stay focused on getting from one day to the next.
Before long, though, something pretty amazing started happening.
Something very … Alabama.
People began finding out about Rod — like without me saying anything, just on their own. About our friendship, and what had happened, and how much I missed him. And before I knew it they….
Began to look out for me.
People began to take care of me. In a ton of little and big ways that probably seemed like nothing much to them, but that were a huge deal to me. They reached out. They made sure I was O.K., and they made certain that I never got to a place where I was experiencing a long, lasting depression. They … lifted me up.
It was teammates, coaches, people in the athletic department, advisors, professors … just pretty much everyone.
They treated me like family.
I’ll never forget that. It meant the world to me.
And before I knew it, Alabama became home.
This team. This university. This entire town….
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I was someone who played basketball as a kid and came to the sport of football really late, so I guess there’s actually a whole lot about my career so far that you could say came as a surprise to me. But one thing I definitely have to admit is that when I started playing I never thought I’d one day be joining the best college football program in the nation. And then to be fortunate enough to make my mark almost immediately as a freshman? To some extent, it was a blur.
You hear people making a big deal out of the fact that my first five catches at Bama all went for touchdowns. But back then, when it was happening?
I never even talked about it.
I was just trying to do my job and make the most of any opportunities that came my way. I didn’t even think anything of it until guys started bringing it up in the locker room. Even with my very first touchdown ever for the Tide … it didn’t really strike me as anything more than me doing what I was supposed to do.
But I remember I came over to the sideline and Shaun Dion Hamilton immediately grabbed me.
“Bro, that is BIIIIIIG!” he said.
Shaun was a big-time leader on that team, and he’s from my hometown — someone who I looked up to — so I realized right then and there that something pretty cool had happened.
“That’s gonna be the first of many,” he said. “Now you can really go out and establish yourself. Go show the world what you can do, bro.”
Butch Dill/AP Images
It’s my hope that, from there, what I have been able to show everyone is that I am a player, and a person, who will do anything for my team — someone who wants to win more than anything, and who is just looking for any opportunity to make a big impact whenever his name is called. Whether that meant hauling in a TD after halftime against Georgia to help kick-start our second-half run in the national championship game a few years back, or making a big block to help spring Jerry so we could celebrate together in the end zone, I just wanted to do everything in my power to help Alabama football get those W’s.
I never gave anything less than my all. I offered up my heart and soul to this team, and I truly just wanted to work as hard as I could to get better and better as a player. I can honestly say that, as a member of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide football team, I tried my very best to do everything I could to help my team, my brothers, every way I could — every game, every practice, every day.
In the process I have learned so much, about football and about life. And I truly believe that I’ve grown immeasurably as a player since that day back in the spring of 2017 when I left Montgomery for Tuscaloosa.
So now, once again, I find myself at a point in my life where, as tough as it is, it’s time to leave home again.
And, once again, I find myself thinking about my best friend in this moment.
Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images
Because Rod, God bless him … he saw this coming.
All of it.
It’s almost unbelievable when I think back on how he used to talk about my football career … before I even had one. He spoke about it like it was a foregone conclusion, actually.
My junior year of high school, when I was a five-foot-nine basketball player who was dead set on not playing football, Rod came up with a nickname for me to encourage me to go out for the team:
I thought he was crazy at the time. It’s was like: Who me? A five-star football recruit? I don’t even play. Get serious.
But he just kept saying it and saying it. And next thing you know….
Then, when I was a special teams player barely seeing the field that year, Rod already had me penciled in as a difference maker at a certain D-I powerhouse:
I didn’t believe him at the time — or at least I wasn’t so sure that I’d be able to play for the best football program in the nation. But him believing … it helped me to believe.
I decided to commit to Alabama for a lot of reasons, but one was definitely because I knew it would make him proud. And next thing you know….
Everything my best friend saw happening for me has come to pass. It’s pretty crazy.
And just knowing that he saw these things in me, and that he would never let me settle … that has honestly carried me to everything I’ve accomplished.
There was no way I was gonna let Rod down.
As far as I was concerned, his predictions were going to come true no matter what. And even though Rod wasn’t able to see it happen in person, I’m pretty sure that if he were around when I started to find the end zone for Bama on a regular basis, he would’ve been repeating the same three letters over and over again.
So I know he’d be proud of me today as I share some news with the football world.
I recently sat down for some long heart-to-heart talks with my mom and my younger brother, Kevontae’, and we all decided together that it’s the right time for me to take that next step and declare for the 2020 draft.
My family, who I love more than anything, and who have always been there to support me, in good times and bad, gave me their blessing. They told me they believed in me and encouraged me to make this decision. It was such an amazing display of love and support. I will never forget those conversations.
And, you know what, I’m pretty sure Rod was right there looking down from above as all that was going on — just grinning from ear to ear.
If he were sitting here today, knowing Rod, he’d definitely be doing two very specific things. First, he’d be telling me that I can’t stop now — that I need to work even harder now, get even better, make my mark in the league. Second though, he’d be going waaaaaaay overboard saying….
I TOOOOOOOLD YOU!!!!!!!
He’d just be repeating that over and over. That and just … smiling.
Even when I didn’t believe in myself, Rod … he believed in me beyond a shadow of a doubt. And one of the things I wish I could ask him — something I’ve always wondered, and mention every single time I go and talk to him at his grave — is….
What is it that you saw in me? What made you so sure I could do this, that I could do great things — things that I thought were literally impossible.
John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports
I’ll never know, of course. We’ll never have that talk.
But you know what? Every time I score a touchdown and put three fingers up to the sky for Rod, in some ways.…
Maybe that’s even better.
Because we’re connecting in the simplest and most sincere way possible. I’m paying tribute to my friend. And Rod, I am certain, is looking down from above, happy as can be.
And just like Rod will always be in my heart as I move forward and show what I can do in the league, the same can be said for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Alabama is a part of me now. A big part. That’s forever.
I will miss Alabama more than I can even say.
It really is home. And it’s never easy to leave home.
But sometimes, if you’re lucky and you work hard, and you have some faith, it really does turn out for the best. And now that I’ve officially made my decision to declare for the draft and enter the NFL, I can’t wait to do everything in my power to make sure that that’s exactly what happens.