'Quiet assassin' JoJo Earle preparing to make an early impact at Alabama
Earlier this week, Margin Hooks whetted the appetite of an anxious Alabama fanbase, posting a quick video of Crimson Tide signee JoJo Earle. The eight-second clip showed the four-star receiver going through footwork drills while flashing the cutting ability that has helped him carve through opposing defenses in recent years.
Earle won’t be able to display those skills in Tuscaloosa, Ala. until the summer as he wasn’t one of the 14 early enrollees to join the team last month. However, he and Hooks are currently working to ensure that the wait is worthwhile.
“I’m just looking to stay in shape with my craft and keeping things sharp,” Earle told BamaInsider. “I’ve got to get better. We’re just working on adding stuff to my releases and tightening up my routes.”
Earle is one of Alabama’s most anticipated arrivals. Over his three-year varsity career at Aledo (Texas) High School, he piled up a combined 4,984 yards of total offense while recording 39 touchdowns through the air and 26 more scores on the ground.
This past season, he helped the Bearcats secure their third straight state title, accounting for 224 total yards and a touchdown in the championship game. That performance came complete with a 74-yard touchdown reception in which he blew past a defender on an out-route before juking past two more on his way to the end zone.
Hooks, who has been training Earle since his freshman year of high school, now simply refers to plays like those as “JoJo stuff.”
“When you look at his skill set, he’s one of the most polished kids entering college that I’ve ever had,” said Hooks, who helped Oklahoma receiver Marvin Mims earn Freshman All-America honors last season while leading the Sooners in receiving.
Alabama fans aren’t the only ones anxious to see Earle in crimson and white. He said he regularly speaks with receivers coach Holmon Wiggins who informed him he’ll have an opportunity to see the field early this season.
“They like my versatility,” Earle said. “As soon as I get there, they want me to be able to make an impact. They say they can’t wait until I get down there so they can get me into the game plan.”
While Earle has the potential of developing into a valuable weapon for Alabama’s offense this season, his decision to join the Tide came as somewhat of a surprise a couple of months ago. The longtime LSU commit had been slated to join the Tigers since last April before ultimately de-committing on Dec. 16 when he signed with Alabama.
“There’s a lot of stuff that went into it that’s really between me and my family, but ultimately I just feel like I’ll be better developed as a player and as a person at Alabama,” Earle said. “I also feel like they’ll develop me better in terms of getting me to the NFL.”
The news even seemed to catch Alabama’s staff a bit off guard.
“They were just shocked,” Earle recalled of his conversation notifying Alabama coaches that he was signing with the Tide. “I talked to Coach Wiggins, and he was just like, ‘You kidding?’ I told him, ‘No sir, I’m for real.’ He also talked to my parents, and they had an exciting conversation with him as well.
“I talked to Coach Saban later that night, and he was excited about it, too.”
Earle comes to Alabama as the No. 5 receiver and No. 41 overall player in this year’s class. He is part of a star-studded receiving haul for the Tide that also includes fellow Rivals100 talents in Jacorey Brooks, Christian Leary and Agiye Hall. Earle welcomes the competition and says working alongside his fellow signees as well as the other talented receivers on the Tide’s roster should only drive him to take his game to another level.
“I’m not the best on the team anymore,” Earle said. “I’ve got to have that mindset that I’ve got to get better if I’m not the best on the team. I’ve got to work hard enough to be the best on the team.”
Earle is the only one of Alabama’s incoming receivers not already on campus. While the freshman’s delayed arrival might serve as a slight disadvantage, Hooks doesn’t think it will be too much of an issue. The trainer described Earle as “mentally strong,” stating that his ability to apply coaching into his game far exceeds his years.
“The hardest part for a young guy is to implement things and put it in a game-like situation,” Hooks said. “He does it naturally. If he can understand it and see how it works, he’s able to translate it to his game right away.
“They’ve got a new offensive coordinator over there, so everyone’s going to be learning a new offense. He’s going to be two months behind everyone over there, but it’s not like he’s two years behind. I think if he goes into there and puts his head down, he’ll be able to show the coaches what he can do.”
While Earle will have to wait a few months to experience Alabama’s program himself, he’s already received a bit of insight from fellow Aledo alum Jase McClellan, who ran for 235 yards and two touchdowns while averaging a team-high 10.65 yards per carry as a freshman last year.
“He gives me a lot of advice,” Earle said. “He says it’s basically just like Aledo on steroids. You just have to come in and know that you’re here for a reason and you’re not just here to be here. You’ve got to be ready.”
Like McClellan, Earle shouldn't have any trouble adjusting to Alabama’s winning culture as he comes from a similarly successful program in Aledo. Along with his three straight state titles, Earle helped the Bearcats post a 44-2 record during his three years at the varsity level.
“Some guys go to Alabama to learn how to win,” Hooks said. “JoJo already knows how to do that. He’s been a part of that, so it’s not going to be overwhelming to him over at Alabama.”
If Earle does earn early playing time on Alabama’s offense, it will most likely come at the slot receiver position where the Tide will look to replace one of its most dynamic players in Jaylen Waddle. Due to the two receivers' similar build and playing-making ability, Earle has already drawn comparisons to the fellow Texas native.
“I can see where people say that,” Hooks said with some hesitation. “There are some ways where they are the same, but they’re also different players. Size-wise, they’re about the same. They both have really good ball skills and can be used a lot of different ways. Jaylen Waddle’s top-end speed is faster than JoJo’s, but coming into college I think JoJo’s a more polished receiver.”
Instead, Hooks likens Earle’s game to five-time Pro Bowler Steve Smith. Hooks, a former receiver at BYU from 1996-2000, went up against Smith, a former Utah standout, several times at the college level. He believes Earle not only has a comparable skillset to the former NFL star but also carries himself similarly on the field.
“He has that kind of confidence, that cockiness, that’s how JoJo is,” Hooks said. “Steve Smith is loud with it, you know he’s aggressive. JoJo’s not that violent type. It’s not that he can’t do that, but he’s more of a quiet assassin.”
Earle is humbled by the comparisons but says he’s looking to be his own player at the next level. Alabama will get its first look at that in a few months. Until then, the star receiver’s message to Tide fans is simple.
“Be ready,” Earle said. “That’s all I can say is be ready.”