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January 5, 2013

Yeldon in the spotlight

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. | The path that T.J. Yeldon traveled from Daphne, Ala., to Miami Gardens at the BCS National Championship Game was anything but a straight line.

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But in just one calendar year, the University of Alabama freshman running back went from high school sensation to media sensation at the BCS Media Day event at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday. In his first comments to the media since arriving at the Capsone last January, Yeldon said the transition to become one of college football's most exciting young running backs came with its share of trials.

Blocking, he said, was a big one. Adjusting to the speed of the college game was another. But Yeldon ultimately rushed for more yards than teammate Eddie Lacy -- or predecessors Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram -- rushed for as freshmen.

"I kept getting more and more confident with the game, getting the hang of the pace of the game. It just kept getting better for me. (It clicked) probably the LSU game -- they have a great defense," Yeldon said.

Yeldon has rushed for 1,000 yards with 11 touchdowns in 13 games, breaking Terry Grant's school record for a freshman, which had been 891. UA offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said Yeldon had the necessary mental makeup to make the immediate impact.

"T.J. has outstanding maturity. He grew old early," Nussmeier said. "And sometimes offensively, as a coaching staff, we have to remind ourselves, especially early in the season."

Nussmeier said pass protection was among the tasks Yeldon was most challenged to develop.

"As with any young back, you worry about protections, the intricacies of, 'Is he seeing the right reads, in the running game," Nussmeier added.

Starter Eddie Lacy was immediately impressed with the new freshman, and did what he could to assist in his development.

"He matured well. He came out and I knew he was going to be good in camp when he just kept rolling and didn't slow down like most freshman would, like coming from high school to college," Lacy said. "He matured real fast and you see what he's doing right now."

Yeldon wasted no time getting noticed as a freshman, rushing for 111 yards and a touchdown against Michigan in a nationally-televised season-opener in Arlington, Texas, at Cowboys Stadium. If he tops 100 yards against the Fighting Irish Monday night, it will be his fifth such game of his first season. Aside from the Michigan game, other highlight moments for Yeldon included a game-winning touchdown reception on a screen pass in the final moments of a comeback win at LSU, and a crucial first down on 3rd and 5 against Georgia in the SEC title game that set up a game-winning touchdown pass to fellow freshman Amari Cooper.

"The coaches called by number, and I just had to make a big-time play when it mattered. I just had to get that first down," Yeldon said. "We were running really well at that time against Georgia, so I knew it was a good call."

Yeldon said the future of the Alabama offense is exciting with both he and Cooper, another freshman record setter, still with three more years of eligibility each.

"It's going to be pretty scary for the defense. Me and Amari are really good friends," Yeldon said. "When we first got here it was just us and the rest of the guys hanging out, so we helped each other."

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.


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