Senior sprinter looks for big season

To the casual observer, football can seem like a simple game. Run fast; tackle hard. Throw the football and catch it. But with 245-pound linebackers protecting the middle and head-hunting safeties lying in wait, the life of an SEC wide receiver isn't as easy as it might appear. "People say my little boy can catch a football when they're throwing the ball in the yard," said senior wideout Jason McAddley. "But when that ball is coming full speed and the game is on the line, it's not that easy."

"You've got shoulder pads on. You're tired. You might be injured and hurting. You might have jammed your finger in practice and it hurts every time you touch the ball. No, it's not always so simple," concluded McAddley.

Shown warming up before practice last season, McAddley finished spring drills listed first-string at one slotback position.

Since arriving in Tuscaloosa as a combination football/track star out of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, McAddley has developed into a dangerous receiver. But even at 6-2 and credited with a legitimate 4.4 clocking in the 40-yard dash, the senior knows the game is as much mental as physical. "You've just got to be disciplined," McAddley explained. "I watch Jerry Rice. He's one of the most disciplined receivers ever. He actually sees the tuck (after catching the ball), and that's what you should do. But sometimes you know you're open and you know the ball is coming to you. You're thinking ‘I can score!' But you turn your head a split second before it gets there--and that's when you end up dropping it."

Averaging 15.3 yards per catch last season, McAddley hasn't dropped that many footballs recently. But sometimes the hardest balls to catch are those when you're most wide open. "You just do what you can to catch it; catch it with your body," McAddley said. "There was one play against Central Florida, sprint-right bomb--and I was so open. But Drew underthrew me a bit, and I was actually running backwards. There was a defender coming, and I could have turned and ran or just made sure I caught the ball. And I made sure. Make sure you catch it, then try and get in (the endzone).

"If I know I'm scoring, if I'm 5-10 yards from the endzone--only then can you relax a bit. Like on that play, you know you've scored and you don't have to concentrate. Then you just run straight."

Last season McAddley was Bama's third leading receiver, playing in all 11 games and totaling 413 yards on 27 receptions. And for the second straight year the speedster was credited with three regular-season touchdown receptions. An additional 99 yards in kick returns pushed his all-purpose yardage total to 565, fourth on the squad.

With receivers coach Kenny Pope looking on, McAddley works at blocking drills with fellow starter Antonio Carter (#2) last spring.

Since the conclusion of spring drills, continued hard work in the weight room has pushed McAddley's weight to a solid 200 pounds, which he expects will help him withstand the rigors of SEC competition. "For a receiver, I'm fairly big," McAddley explained. "Usually DBs are smaller, 5-10, 180-190, so I've gotten hit pretty hard, but I've always gotten up. Sometimes it's not the hit that hurts you, but when you hit the ground. The ground's a lot harder than people think. It hurts, but you know you've got to keep going. You've got to play hurt."

After sitting out his first year on campus to gain strength and adjust to college ball, the gifted athlete played sparingly as a redshirt freshman before settling into a starting role as a sophomore. "In high school there were a lot of people that weren't talented," McAddley explained. "If you're faster and stronger--if you're taller than other people, then you can end up playing down to their level. If you know the defender runs a 4.7 and you run a 4.4, then you might not have to use proper technique. Usually I could just run around him. But you can't do that when you come to college."

McAddley has excellent height and strength, and his speed is good enough to have earned him an open invitation to run for Coach Harvey Glance's Bama Track Team. But he frankly admits that he hasn't yet reached his full potential as a receiver. "Part of it is being in shape," McAddley related. "I might can run a 4.4 in the 40 (yard dash), but I wasn't always playing at 4.4 speed. I wasn't playing at the speed I was capable of playing, because I wasn't used to running full speed every play. You've got to get in shape.

"But now I'm used to it. It's basically second nature now. In the SEC you learn real quick. You may think you can run past your man, but that DB might can run a 4.4, too. So then it comes down to technique. Who's got the better technique?"

Shown lined up during summer pass skel work, McAddley could well be the fastest athlete on the squad, and the former sprinter finished spring as a leading contender for the kickoff return role.

The veteran receiver's technique has been good enough to provide several Crimson highlights, including his thrilling 66-yard TD against Arkansas in '99 and the key endzone catch just before halftime in the SEC Championship game. But even now he is surprised to learn that Bama fans think he and his friends are anything special. "As a person you're not any different," McAddley stated. "For instance, people find out I room with Terry, and they ask, ‘How's TJ? What is he like?'

"But I'm thinking, ‘He's TJ. There's nothing special about him.' We're not any different."

Together with his roommate and the other Tide seniors, McAddley is determined to make amends for last season's embarrassing performance. And a sense of obligation to the loyal Bama fans provides all the motivation they need. "I was at a track meet in Oregon," McAddley explained. "And I was seeing people with Alabama shirts on. There are Bama fans everywhere. I just had no idea. And they knew all about football. They knew who I was. I was thinking, ‘Man, I'm in Oregon!'"

That experience reminded him that wearing the Crimson jersey is something special and reinforced a lesson learned during his first team meeting four years ago. "Those fans were there watching, seeing what kind of person I am," McAddley related. "You never know who's watching, so you need to live up to the role.

"One of the first thing the coaches told me when I got here was ‘You represent the University of Alabama.'"


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