Sunseri Is Peanut Butter In Secondary

Roxann Sunseri has seen a lot of football. Married to Sal, former college and pro player and longtime coach at both levels, and mother of Tino, the former Pittsburgh quarterback now playing in the Canadian Football League at Saskatchewan, and Vinnie, Alabama's junior safety, she knows game.



There have been a lot of nicknames applied to players and even groups of players in college football. One might think she would appreciate "The Italian Stallion." Perhaps "The Four Horsemen."

Mrs. Sunseri's contribution to college football nicknames, though, is "Peanut Butter and Jelly."

Vinnie Sunseri, a a 6-0, 210-pound junior who is listed first team at strong safety, and HaHa Clinton-Dix, a 6-1, 208-pound returning starter at safety, work together in the Alabama secondary.

In last year's national championship season, Sunseri pointed out that both he and Clinton-Dix had their first interceptions in the Crimson Tide's win over Arkansas. Both had second interceptions in the Bama win over Missouri.

"My mom was calling us ‘Peanut Butter and Jelly,'" Vinnie said. "She said we go good together. We're a little different, but we go good with each other.

"We know how to bounce off of each other and I feel like everyone on the defense is like that right now. Everyone knows how to mold with each other and knows what the other person is thinking before they even say it. We've got a good little connection going on right now."

That connection will be tested in Alabama's season-opener Saturday when the Crimson Tide, ranked number one in the nation, takes on the Virginia Tech Hokies at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Kickoff will be at 5:30 p.m. EDT (4:30 central time) with ESPN televising the game.

Earlier this week, Clinton-Dix was asked to describe Sunseri.

"Crazy," Clinton-Dix said. "He doesn't care. He goes balls to the wall all the time. You never have to tell him to pick it up. He gives 110 (percent) effort) no matter if he's hurt, limping, or doesn't have any legs. He's going to give his all until he passes out.

"That's a crazy dude."

Like when he knocked himself out a couple of years ago while covering a kick?

"That's a perfect example," Clinton-Dix said. "110 all the time."

Sunseri said being called crazy by Clinton-Dix "is definitely a compliment. I give it all I got. I try to give it all for the team because I know they'd do the same for me. If I can do anything to help the team, that's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to go half. I'm going to go full speed every time."

Sunseri acknowledges that the new targeting rule – actually it's not a new rule, but the penalty for a player initiating contact above the shoulder or launching himself into a so-called defensive player can mean ejection – has affected his style of play. "I'm trying to make plays on the ball more than I am trying to hit people," he said. "I think it has helped me a little bit. You want to get the ball out. I've really been focusing on hooking and swatting and doing whatever Coach Saban wants me to do.

"We had a referee from the SEC come in and tell us what was going to be called an illegal hit, what was going to get you ejected, and what you could do to prevent that."

Sunseri thinks the rule puts more pressure on the safeties. "Your first instinct when someone is in the air about to catch the ball is to hit them. All your momentum is going forward and your first reaction is to launch into him. So you really have to control your body and be smart."

There are some new things in the Alabama secondary, a few freshmen players who are likely to play a part and a new coach for the safeties.

Sunseri said that cornerback Maurice Smith has "been really diligent with how he's gotten into the playbook. He's done everything Coach Saban has asked him to do. He's really smart. He's really focused on doing the little things right. He's jumped into special teams and done really well with that. He's not the only freshman who has done well. Eddie Jackson has done great things.

"All the freshmen are really trying to implement the Alabama way and I've been pleased with how they've gone about their business."

He's also pleased with veteran Greg Brown, who joined the staff in the spring as coach of the safetie. Sunseri said, "He has been great. He really dove head first into the playbook, really learned everything fast. He knows exactly what he's talking about."

Sunseri said he knew Brown was on the same page with Nick Saban when Brown "yelled at me for something right before Coach Saban said the exact same thing. I thought, ‘Yeah, this guy knows his stuff.'"

And as for that "Peanut Butter and Jelly" thing? "It's sticking a little bit," Vinnie said. "I call him Jelly every now and then. I've got to be Peanut Butter because I'm a little stronger than he is."

Crazy.

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