BamaInsider - Landon Collins is irreplaceable
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Landon Collins is irreplaceable

He's as affable a guy as you'll find among the 85 names and personalities on Alabama's scholarship roster.
There is a comfort to which a generous smile parceled with a thick New Orleans accent puts you at ease. Conversation with him comes easy, mainly because he makes it that way.
But don't let that fool you.
Landon Collins will spill you all over the Georgia Dome turf or Bryant-Denny Stadium grass and then smile down at you so you know exactly who the freight train was that just ran over you.
The thick-necked No. 26 is built like a linebacker and for many programs he could be. At 6-foot, 222 pounds, he's the best tackler on the team. His 70 stops in 2013 fell behind only All-American, Butkus Award winning linebacker C.J. Mosley. His 27 tackles through three games, including 12 against Southern Miss, rest comfortably atop the team lead more than double anyone else.
Quite simply, he's the most irreplaceable player on the Crimson Tide's defense.
A neatly trimmed beard belies his youth, as do the tattoos on his arms, the cross on his right bicep revealing a softer side to the All-American safety candidate perhaps still best known for saying no to his mom on national television.
He embraces the ignominy of that moment in January 2011 when his mother, April Justin, told the world on live television that she didn't agree with his decision to attend Alabama over in-state LSU.
Initially he hated all the attention it cast upon him. What 18 year old would that not embarrass?
A more mature Collins now believes it showed the world how much love he shares with his mom.
"It's not a day that goes by where I'm not asked about that," Collins said. "It's funny though. At one point I got tired of it. I wanted to let it disappear. But I know it's going to always follow me because it was a big part of my life. It's a big part of the football part of my life.
"It's fantastic to have that because that's your mom. I love my mom. She's going to act like that. You have to respect it. She wanted me at home, and I understood that, but I knew what the best decision was for me and the best move for me."
The best move for Collins was Alabama.
He knew it long before he shared it with the rest of the world in front of a nationally televised audience. Years before, in fact.
Though it might not have turned out that way if he'd gone to a different high school.
Collins picked up the game at 4 and from that time on he was a running back. "It was easy for me to score touchdowns because that's what I did," Collins said.
That didn't change until he got to Dutchtown High School in Geismar, La., as a freshman.
Physically developed for his age, Collins' promise was clear, but there was a problem. Dutchtown already had an established running back. His name? Eddie Lacy.
The logical move involved switching positions. So he flipped to defense and evolved into a five-star recruit at safety.
"I knew it when he walked in here as a freshman," Dutchtown head coach Benny Saia said. "When he walked in here you could just see. He actually dressed varsity as a freshman. He didn't start, but he played a good bit. You could just see he was going to be special."
That team Collins' freshman season was special, too, and loaded with talent. It included future Alabama star and 2013 NFL Rookie of the Year Lacy at running back and future LSU standout and first round NFL draft pick Eric Reid at free safety. Then there was Collins.
As Lacy went off to Alabama and Reid to LSU, it became Collins' team. That never changed him, though. He remained as grounded as ever.
And when the team needed him to play running back again on top of his defensive responsibilities, he did.
During his senior season in 2010, Collins rushed for 13.7 yards a carry and intercepted four passes, returning two for touchdowns, on his way to becoming the first player in Louisiana Sports Writers Association history to earn 5A All-State honors on offense and defense.
The 1,218 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns were all the more impressive considering he "practiced about 10 minutes a day at running back," Saia said.
Collins never intended on following his friend Reid to LSU, though he let his recruitment play out until a month before national signing day in 2011, mostly due to the backlash he knew was coming when everyone knew what he knew for years: that he was headed to Alabama.
"Landon was going to Alabama from day one," Saia said. "When Eric Reid signed with LSU, and they were very close, he told Eric at his signing, 'I'm going to go to Alabama and whip your tail.' But nobody around here could accept that. It was the girlfriend. It was this or that. He just wanted to go play at Alabama."
Three years removed from the decision, most have accepted it except for the "loudmouths" as Saia refers to them.
Collins is now the unquestioned leader of the secondary, the latest in a long line of Crimson Tide safeties that thrived at the collegiate level and are now in the NFL. Names like Rashad Johnson, Mark Barron, Robert Lester, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Vinnie Sunseri.
It's that lineage that drew Collins to Alabama. He ignored many who used the depth chart as a reason to eschew Alabama. He's not one to run from a challenge.
Collins knows he's talented, he just doesn't feel the need to sing his own praise or be demonstrative about it. It's a trait he shares with his favorite NFL player, Peyton Manning.
"It's his sense of determination. His focus. His off-field actions and how he gets ready and prepared for a game," Collins said of Manning. "Just the type of person he is, he's very humble and relaxed, and he controls his game. He controls the outcome and his players and they all look up to him as a leader and follow in his footsteps."
Those are also some of the characteristics that make Collins perhaps the most irreplaceable player on the team.
Nick Saban agrees.
"For a lot of reasons," Saban said. "First of all, he's a very good player. Second thing, he's a very good person who's a good leader who affects other people who has a pretty good knowledge and understanding of what we do. His experience and confidence, I think, affects other players in a positive way.
"I don't really want to have to replace any player, but Landon is a player because of his production, his performance, his knowledge and experience, we don't have anybody else at that position that has what he has and has produced the way he's produced."
It's an interesting game for Collins. His younger brother, Gerald Willis, is a freshman defensive lineman for Florida.
As defensive players, it's unlikely the brothers find themselves on the field against the other, but it could happen on special teams. In that event, senior tight end Brian Vogler had a few words of advice for Willis.
"...you have to know where Landon is because he's so fast, he's got so much range," Vogler said. "You might think you're safe...but he's there."
The brothers are only 16 months apart. Justin dressed them as twins when they were toddlers.
"One wore blue and one wore red," she said.
The game puts mom back in the spotlight, but this time she's leaving herself out of it so long as neither hurts the other.
"This is only time I'll allow them to hit on each other," Justin said. "If they're on the field against each other, I'll have to accept it. But that's it. It's crazy because they've never played against each other. They always played together.
"They're looking forward to it. They've both called me and Landon said, 'Mom, don't get mad because I'm going to lay your little son out.' And then Gerald called and said, 'Don't get mad at me, but I'm going to knock your favorite son's head off.'
"I said, 'Look, at the end of the game that is your brother. I want clean hits.' They've gone back and forth. They can't wait."
Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0229.