Alabama answered the question of what to get a team that has everything.
A speedy wide receiver and a new middle linebacker and defensive playcaller are welcome gifts for any football team.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide’soffseason transfer pickups, receiver Jameson Williams and linebacker Henry To’oTo’o, have already given Alabama fans a glimpse of what they hope to expect through the season.
The Ohio State transfer Williams had a 94-yard touchdown catch in the opening 44-13 win over Miami and ex-Tennessee starter To’oTo’o (TOE-oh-TOE-oh) made seven tackles.
It’s no wonder Alabama defensive back Brian Branch is much happier having Williams as a teammate than preparing to face him in the national championship game against the Buckeyes.
”It was very tough,” Branch said. ”I was watching film of him every night.”
Williams and To’oTo’o make their Bryant-Denny Stadium debuts for Alabama Saturday against Mercer. But they’ve already made a splash as instant starters.
It’s no easy feat at a program loaded with other top recruits. But a team that was already defending national champs and a favorite to win again filled a couple of potential voids.
Williams gave the Tide an experienced receiver along with John Metchie III. He helped fill the hole left by two first-round NFL draft picks, Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, in a mostly young group.
Williams had four catches for 126 yards, most of it coming on the 94-yarder from Bryce Young that tied for the second longest touchdown pass in Alabama’s history. He did it with Smith, Waddle and Henry Ruggs III – all first-round receivers – on the sidelines.
”The guys who were on the sideline, we talked during the game, before the game, just chopping it up,” Williams said Tuesday. ”I feel like I am part of those guys. I was a part of those guys when I committed to Alabama out of the transfer portal. Once you’re Bama family, you’re family.”
But in January, Williams was preparing to face the Tide in the national championship game. He had just one catch for 14 yards.
Williams said he wasn’t considering a move to Alabama in January when the two teams faced off, but the transition has gone smoothly.
While ‘Bama was reloading at receiver, the Buckeyes were just plain loaded.
”I was real comfortable coming to Alabama. It’s a great environment,” said Williams, who had 15 catches for 266 yards in two seasons at Ohio State. ”I love the environment and everything.
”I feel like I fit in well with my mindset and these guys’ mindset, playing with my brothers. I feel real comfortable.”
He said Alabama was his second choice coming out of high school.
For To’oTo’o, two schools were ahead of the Tide. He wound up starting in each of his two years at Tennessee.
His arrival allowed Tide star Christian Harris to play his more natural position while To’oTo’o took over playcalling duties as the Mike linebacker. He had seven tackles in his Alabama debut.
But in some ways, it was a delicate balancing act coming in as the newcomer, albeit an experienced one.
”You come in here with a group, a team that’s been together and you’re the new guy, so I didn’t really come in with the mindset to be the defensive caller, to be the signal-caller,” To’oTo’o said.
”I wanted to be that guy that they could trust, that they could call at night, in the morning, whenever they needed me. So that was kind of my approach, to be able to just build relationships with the guys so that it could translate on the field.”
He entered the transfer portal in January, two days after Tennessee fired coach Jeremy Pruitt. He chose Alabama, one of the Volunteers’ biggest rivals, in May over Ohio State.
To’oTo’o said it wasn’t a huge adjustment since Pruitt was a former Tide defensive coordinator and there were similarities in the systems.
Playing for Alabama coach Nick Saban was a big part of the allure.
”Who doesn’t wanna play for Coach Saban?” To’oTo’o said. ”And the culture, the guys around here, how they are so eager to win. It’s just a blessing for me to be here.”
And it’s a boost for Alabama too.
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