Second chance at first choice
Two years after her reaction to her son's decision went viral, April Justin returns
ORLANDO -- She's baaaaack.
If you watched the Under Armour All-America Game two years ago – or even if you didn't -- you likely remember April Justin. She's the mother of Landon Collins, at the time the No. 1 safety prospect in the 2012 class.
He announced his college choice of Alabama during the ESPN telecast. And that's when the fun began. Or was it misery? Depends on your perspective.
Sitting to her son's left, Justin visibly disagreed with his decision. She shook her head, rolled her eyes, waved her hands. She told Dari Nowkhah, the ESPN announcer hosting the festivities, that LSU was the better choice -- the right choice -- for her eldest son.
After all, they're from New Orleans.
"Everybody was shocked at what she did," said Speedy Noil, a wide receiver from New Orleans Edna Karr who is set to make his announcement Thursday during the UA Game (4 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Noil played in high school with third-ranked defensive tackle Gerald Willis III. Willis is April Justin's other son.
And guess what? Down to LSU, Florida and Alabama, he plans to make his announcement live during the game, too – with mom at his side.
"I hope it doesn't have to go viral again," Justin said.
Her 2012 reaction went viral, all right. She's conducted numerous interviews on the incident, from publications sympathetic to her motherly point of view to those critical that she robbed Collins of his celebratory moment.
Mostly, observers simply couldn't take their eyes off the two minutes of awkwardness.
"In nine-and-a-half years at ESPN, I've never been involved in a moment that people have talked about more," said Nowkhah, who will return to the infamous scene for seven announcements on Thursday.
Willis, a sophomore at the time of his brother's college choice, stood in the back of a crowd of family and friends two years ago. He said he knew their mother might get upset, in part because Collins surprised her with the announcement.
There will be no such problem on Thursday. Willis, No. 29 in the ESPN 300, said last weekend that he would sit down with his mom in Florida and discuss the choice with her.
"She learned her lesson," Willis said. "She found out that was wrong. She said she ain't going to do that again."
Not so fast, though.
Justin said she won't mask her emotions. If she disagrees with Willis' choice, she'll let everyone know.
"I'm not going to sit there and cheer on something that I'm against," she said. "As long as I'm OK with the school that he chooses, we'll be OK. But if I don't like the school, it's probably the same reaction."
Willis recently asked his mom to bring an Alabama glove to the announcement. He'll slip into the handwear of his future school. Previously, Willis whittled his options to the Tigers and the Gators. But after he spent time with Collins, who is back in New Orleans to practice for the Sugar Bowl, Willis added the Crimson Tide to his mix.
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"I don't know where that's coming from," Justin said, "but there's going to be a terrible reaction if he rolls out that craziness again."
Justin still harbors ill feelings toward Alabama over Collins' recruitment. She said in prior interviews that she felt that the coaches ignored her.
She fully supports Collins, though, she said this week. Mom traveled to the majority of his games in his sophomore season. Collins took over as the starting strong safety after Vinnie Sunseri went down with a knee injury in October.
"I'd still prefer him home at LSU," Justin said. "What he's doing at Alabama, he could have done the same thing at LSU. I feel as though Landon would have had a starting spot as a freshman."
Sometimes, she daydreams.
"I can imagine him playing for his home state and making things happen," she said, "and being a part of Tiger Nation."
Really, at the center of this drama is a story of a mom who doesn't want to lose her boys. She lost Collins twice – first after Hurricane Katrina split the family. Collins' father moved him north to Geismar, La., so the elder Collins could find work after the devastating storm.
Then, Justin lost him to Alabama.
She doesn't want to lose Willis, too.
"At the end of the day, if Landon or Gerald get hurt," Justin said, "where they end up is right back here, being nourished by their mother."
So excuse her if she's emotional on Thursday. It's a mom's right.
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