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August 5, 2014
Jalston Fowler's Alabama success story
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Jalston Fowler was always stronger, more physical and usually faster than the competition he played against at Vigor High School down on Alabama's Gulf Coast on the outskirts of Mobile.
But the person he's become, the man he's grown into, the father he is, well, 18- or 19-year old Fowler might have a hard time distinguishing what he is now: one of the University of Alabama football program's feel-good success stories.
The younger Fowler never took schoolwork seriously, never applied himself to academics that much. Hung out with he described as the wrong crowd. By the time he was a senior in the fall of 2009, he was too old to play football based on the rules of the Alabama High School Athletic Association, which governs nearly all of the state's high school football.
He arrived in Tuscaloosa for the spring semester of 2010 and the transformation slowly took hold. Now as a fifth-year senior, Fowler holds one college degree, is close to finishing a graduate degree in sports management and is a father to 1-year-old Jalston Fowler Jr.
All too often it's the success on the field to which Nick Saban's "Process" is glorified, it receiving the lion's share of the credit. But it's in student-athletes like Fowler that Saban himself looks for validation.
In Fowler, Saban is right proud.
"When I see guys like Jalston Fowler who have matured and progressed here from sort of being a young guy coming in that had a lot of ability but now has matured into a fine young man who has graduated, has goals and aspirations for himself, does things the right way, affects other people in the right way, that's what makes me believe the process works," Saban said.
"When you have guys that haven't been in the program that makes some mistakes, do the wrong thing, you get frustrated. But when you see the guys that have been here and gone through it, you see how they've matured through the years and what they've become, it really makes me feel like, 'Hey, the process works.'"
Fowler's never been the go-to running back for Alabama, never been in the spotlight. But his production isn't hard to quantify. He's a sledgehammer when he needs to be and when you think he's one-dimensional, when he's underestimated, he's the guy standing in the end zone on the receiving end of a touchdown pass.
He caught seven passes in 2013, five of them for touchdowns, finishing second on the team in that category in front of even Amari Cooper.
All five touchdowns came on play action fakes, four to the right, one to the left, when defenses expected Fowler to be the lead blocker for T.J. Yeldon or Kenyan Drake. Instead he slipped past linebackers for a wide-open scores.
Expect him to fill a similar role this season. He'll be an H-back and fullback and his career 6.6 yards per carry average is a welcome reminder that if called upon he can run the ball a bit as well. Just don't expect to him to stop lining a defender up in the hole on a run-clearing block for Yeldon, Drake or Derrick Henry.
"I've been doing it all my life, ever since I was a little kid," Fowler said. "So it's nothing major for me. Been knockin' helmets off." If all accounts of first-year offensive Lane Kiffin's offensive philosophy are true, expect Fowler to be used in all of those ways this season.
Regardless of how the season plays out for him, come December Fowler will again walk across the stage in Coleman Coliseum to receive another college degree, a feat he once never dreamed.
And Saban will point to Fowler as an example of what can be accomplished when players completely buy in to the program's personal development.
"I've come a long way, going through what I went through, coming from Mobile, you've got to grow up," Fowler said. "You see a lot of different things growing up in Mobile. And you know you've got to make a change. You just can't be like no ordinary guy coming from Mobile. You've got to stand out, doing stuff like this.
"(But) that little guy right there, (my son) makes a big difference in my life. I won't say I struggled, but I don't want to see him mess up where I messed up. I just want him to be better than me."
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.