Gene Autry was famous for being “the singing cowboy” of old movies, an owner of the California Angels baseball team, and performer of the Christmas classic, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” One almost can hear Autry crooning, “You know Ridley and Stewart, but do you recall, the most-recruited wideout of all? Robert Foster the hard-luck split end...”
Okay, maybe not.
Still, it has been hard luck, or at least tough going, for Alabama junior wide receiver Robert Foster. The 6-2, 191-pound upcoming junior from Monaca, Penn., came to Bama as one of the most highly-recruited players in the nation. The five-star prospect was ranked 23rd on the Scout 300 in the 2013 signing class and fourth among wide receivers.
But Foster didn’t see action in his first year at Alabama. In his redshirt freshman year, 2014, he played in nine games, but had modest numbers, six receptions for 44 yards. Finally, in 2015, things looked good for Foster. He was considered the star of the Bama receiving corps going into the season, and opened the year as the starter at wide receiver.
But in the third game of the season, against Ole Miss in the Crimson Tide’s lone loss in a national championship season, Foster suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. In fewer than three full games he had 10 receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns. His likely success in 2015 was presaged about a year ago when he was co-Most Valuable Player (along with fellow wide receiver ArDarius Stewart) in the 2015 A-Day Game.
That won’t happen in this year’s spring game, which is a week from Saturday, April 16. Foster is recovered from his shoulder injury and practicing, but as is often the case with players coming off injury, he is being protected in workouts by wearing a black no-contact jersey.
Early this spring, after the Tide’s second practice, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, “He’s going a good job, a really good job. He’s out there practicing. We put him in a black shirt because he’s coming off an injury, but he’s done everything that everybody else is doing, running all the routes, learning. He’s playing with a lot more confidence and has got better knowledge of the position.”
Saban added that a player who is not fully participating can benefit from the time, and cited his own experience.
“I think sometimes you can learn a lot when you don’t play,” Saban said. “Some people think that you have to get a lot of reps to really learn, but sometimes I tell the story about my senior year in high school. We won the state championship (in football), and in the state championship game, I had a chipped bone in my ankle and they put a cast on it for six weeks.
“We went right from football to basketball so I had to sit and watch them practicing and running above the basket. I could never shoot very well. I was always a point guard, handling the ball, running the fast break, did all that, but I couldn’t shoot very well and I used to sit up in the top of the armory above the basket and see how the big the basket was, looking from above instead of below.
“So I developed a lot of confidence in my ability to shoot the ball by watching the ball get shot, seeing how the big the basket was because it always looked pretty small to me when I was down on the court. So I became a much better shooter in my time off by sort of absorbing that.
“And I think in Robert Foster’s case, he learned a lot last year when he wasn’t playing in terms of what he needed to do to play winning football, and he’s played with a lot more confidence in these two practices in terms of knowing what to do and how to do it.”
When Bama returns to practice in August camp, Foster will be expected to join Stewart and Calvin Ridley as top candidates for the receiver jobs.