TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Landon Collins smiled brilliantly, his shoulders pressed against the wall as he was crowded by a horde of reporters reaching closer to soak in his syrupy Cajun drawl. A thin, neatly trimmed beard framed his youthful features, wrapping around his jawline like a chinstrap.
Only a sophomore with four career starts at Alabama, he was the centerpiece of the top-ranked Crimson Tide's 45-10 win over Tennessee on Oct. 26. His 89-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Vols had the look of a seminal moment in his career, a play that, if everything goes right, could be looked back on as the start of something special. His eyes widened when he was asked about it.
"I'm lost for words," he said. "It's my first pick-six."
Much of his post-game interview revolved around the play and how he and the secondary had progressed in recent weeks. When it was learned that Vinnie Sunseri would be out for the season with a knee injury, Collins stepped in and started at his natural position of strong safety for the first time. He was named a Player of the Week by the coaching staff the following Monday.
But this was Landon Collins and no one in SEC country had forgotten his story. Alabama's next game would be against LSU, and only a fool would have forgotten the connection between the two schools and the five-star athlete they fought so hard to retain. Collins' announcement at the Under Armour Game in 2012 was a flashpoint in the recruiting world. He betrayed his mother and his hometown on national television when he chose Alabama over LSU that day. The weeks that followed proved to be a nightmare for everyone around him.
"It means a lot to me," Collins said of the game that was still two weeks away at the time. "That's my home state. They tried to throw me in the dirt when I made the commitment. Getting a chance to play against them and actually be on the field and knock some heads with them is a big thing to me."
The discussion veered off course briefly before it was noticed that Collins' mood had changed. His voice had dropped a touch and his shoulders slumped however slightly. He said he'd been holding in his feelings about the aftermath of his commitment for a while. School policy prohibited him from speaking to the media as a freshman and he seems relieved to be letting some of it out, even though there was little joy in his expression.
"There's a lot in me about that situation," he said.
Collins didn't go in depth, and it's easy to understand why. After speaking with those most affected by his choice to attend Alabama, it's no wonder. It isn't just himself he has to think about. The two most important women in a young man's life -- his mother and his girlfriend -- were nearly swept away by the crush of fandom that followed his commitment. Even today there's no telling if that powder keg of emotion is still lit.
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