Yeldon shines during spring

Crimson Tide freshman running back impressing everyone around him

Originally Published: January 10, 2012
By Alex Scarborough | TideNation

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Halfway through the fourth quarter of Saturday's A-Day scrimmage, T.J. Yeldon took a knee.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
Courtesy Jamie NewbergRunning back T.J. Yeldon flipped from Auburn to Alabama and signed with the Crimson Tide.
The true freshman running back who had just ripped off a 50-yard touchdown run that left 78,542 fans dumbstruck looked totally unfazed. He had just turned in one of the most impressive A-Day scrimmages by a first-year player in recent memory, finishing with 179 total yards (88 rushing, 91 receiving) and a touchdown. Still, a smile didn't dare cross his face.

Yeldon accommodated a few teammates looking for a fist bump, walked to the bench for a cup of Gatorade and turned around to find the end of the sideline to get away.

There, things were the quietest. There, he put a towel over his head and let the sounds of the game sink in.

If only he heard what was being said about him. One player's jaw hit the floor on Yeldon's touchdown, letting out a long, drawn out, "Wow." Another jumped up and down and could do little more than laugh.

In the stands, fans looking for the next Trent Richardson, the next Heisman Trophy-caliber running back, began to wonder if they had just discovered it on a warm day in April.

On Saturday, Yeldon showed fans and coaches what he's capable of, and possibly what the future holds. His game was equal parts speed and punishment, burst and determination. When the defense looked like it had him hemmed in, he'd shift gears and find the edge for a quick 10 or 12 yards. Despite an injured wrist, Yeldon caught five passes and didn't let up or shy away from contact.

After the scrimmage, coach Nick Saban called Yeldon the difference in the game, gushing about the tools he possesses at tailback. While some were taken aback by Yeldon's big day, Saban said it was more an extension of the good spring he's had from Day 1.

"T.J. is one of those guys that can do everything," Saban said. "He's a good runner. He's got some power. He's got some speed. He's a really good receiver. So, hopefully he'll continue to mature and have a pretty significant role in helping our offense next year."

Nose guard Jesse Williams and linebacker Adrian Hubbard both started on the White team with Yeldon and were glad they didn't have to try and tackle the freshman back on Saturday. They already knew the type of runner he can be.

"A lot of young guys come in and they're kind of scared," Williams said. "He runs pretty fearless and hits those holes pretty hard."

Said Hubbard: "He's a great back. He's built strong. Everybody thinks he's a young guy, he doesn't know stuff. That's a great kid. He's going to be great. He's somebody to watch out for."

Before ever arriving in Tuscaloosa, high school coaches were saying the same thing, trumpeting his arrival. One coach said, "Once he gets on the field, you'll never be able to get him off."

That's high praise considering the backs in front of him. Eddie Lacy would have been a No. 1 back at a number of schools last year but instead played behind Richardson, and Jalston Fowler has proven himself capable of handling the load as well. Even redshirt freshman Dee Hart has shown the ability to make plays.

Glenn Vickery, Yeldon's coach at Daphne (Ala.) High, knew what the depth chart was and still thought his former running back was ready to contribute from the minute he got to campus. While some players take a year to gain the size and strength needed to compete in the SEC, Yeldon came game ready -- no assembly required. Yeldon is already 6-foot-2, 216 pounds and can bench press 385 pounds.

"He'll play from Game One," Vickery told TideNation in January. "I think he's that kind of kid. His competitiveness is leaps and bounds more than anyone I've coached or seen. He's got too much talent from a multiple-position standpoint to not play."

And judging by his performance on Saturday, Yeldon will play.

When Yeldon picked up the Dixie Howell Award at A-Day, given to the most outstanding player of the game, he joined an exclusive club that almost dictates his future success. In 2011, Trent Richardson won the award, and the year before it was Mark Ingram hoisting the trophy.

Yeldon is a long way from joining those two in the pantheon of Alabama running backs, but hey, neither one of them did it as a freshman. Yeldon has been on campus for less than four months and already he's making history.

Alex Scarborough covers University of Alabama athletics for TideNation. He can be reached at alexscarborough.espn@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexS_ESPN.

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Alabama/SEC reporter