August 20, 2013 10:26:24 AM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- T.J. Yeldon might be top-ranked University of Alabama's next great tailback, but that doesn't mean he's eager to chat about it.
The Crimson Tide's reticent runner said he doesn't like doing media interviews and he seldom gets recognized on campus. Chatty or not, it probably won't be possible for Yeldon to maintain that low profile as he takes over the lead role in Alabama's backfield after shining on national stages as a freshman.
"I just don't really like talking," Yeldon said. "But I can't run from it, so I get used to it. It doesn't bother me now."
He isn't running from his ambition to be the best Alabama tailback ever.
Yeldon follows Bowl Championship Series championship game MVP Eddie Lacy, who replaced 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson, who succeeded 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram. Richardson and Ingram have turned in the top two single-season rushing performances in school history and been first-round NFL draft picks.
There's little doubt Yeldon can be another strong link in that chain.
The Crimson Tide are ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason college football poll that was released Saturday, and Yeldon will play a major role in their attempt to become the first team to win three straight national titles.
He set Alabama's freshman record with 1,108 yards and finished with huge performances in the Southeastern Conference and national title games. One thing Yeldon isn't shy about is his ambition to outshine his recent predecessors and other Tide tailbacks like former NFL MVP Shaun Alexander and Bobby Humphrey.
"I'm always going to be motivated," he said. "I'm just trying to be the best I can be, the best running back to ever come through here."
Yeldon arrived in Tuscaloosa in January 2012 -- after initially committing to rival Auburn -- as a coveted recruit. He captivated fans with an MVP performance in the spring game and became the first Alabama freshman to debut with a 100-yard performance on national TV against Michigan.
He racked up 153 yards against Georgia in the SEC title game and followed that with 108 yards against Notre Dame. Coach Nick Saban said he's "a complete player" who knows the offense and can block and catch, too.
"We expect him to have a great year," Saban said, "and we're hopeful that he'll be able to stay healthy."
Coaches and teammates unanimously responded with "quiet" when asked to describe Yeldon's personality but also say he has a funny side.
He was happily shielded from interviews most of last season because of Saban's policy keeping freshmen off-limits.
Yeldon's reaction to the biggest play of his career perhaps sums up his public demeanor.
After catching a game-winning touchdown pass against LSU, he kind of half-flapped his arms while looking into the stands. Then he walked along the sidelines, helmet still on, barely pausing for congratulations from coaches and a back-slap from Ingram.
To Daphne High School coach Glenn Vickery, that's just T.J.
"You could almost see a smile underneath that helmet," said Vickery, Yeldon's coach from middle school through high school. "That's his emotion. You didn't see any kind of dance, you didn't see any kind of movement."
Yeldon, who often lined up as a slot receiver early in his prep career, scored the winning touchdown in the 2010 state championship game after lining up at Wildcat quarterback. He had also joined the varsity late in the season as a 9th-grader.
"He returned a kickoff about 99 yards against Pace High School out of Florida, and Pace High School's pretty darn good," Vickery said. "You saw it coming."
Yeldon had only 11 catches last season, but his old coach said he has "very similar type hands" to another south Alabama product, Atlanta Falcons and ex-Tide receiver Julio Jones.
Vickery also recalled the U.S. Army All-American Game, where Yeldon was content to let other highly rated backs like Texas-bound Malcolm Brown and Barry Sanders, who signed with Stanford, get much of the attention. At least until he caught a pass in the flat, made a nifty move and hurdled a defender.
"When you see T.J., he was that five-star recruit and now he's a Heisman candidate but he'd just as soon sit in the back of the locker room and talk to his teammates and do what kids do," Vickery said. "He'd rather somebody else get the limelight and the camera. He didn't beat his own chest. He didn't walk around celebrating that he was a four-star or five-star recruit.
"His personality's different than a lot of those kids that just want to announce it and talk about it. He's a quiet kid."