Following his career at Hoover High School (which ended with the 2013 season in football), Marlon Humphrey was likely known for three things, in this order:
Being the son of former Alabama All-America Bobby Humphrey. Being one of the nation’s top track hurdlers. Being a college football defensive back prospect.
Don’t think, though, that Marlon Humphrey was some sort of sleeper prospect. He was a five-star player, rated the nation’s fourth best prospect at cornerback and the 30th best prospect regardless of position by Scout.com. Although expected, it was a recruiting success for Alabama to land him.
After a redshirt season in 2014, Humphrey took over the left cornerback spot in the Crimson Tide defense last year. And what, pray tell, do you suppose that he is now best known for?
“I hear about it every once in a while,” Humphrey said following Alabama’s fall camp practice Wednesday. “I went to Hoover, ate dinner, and somebody came and shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you for the onside kick.’ I hear about it here and there, but I’m looking forward to this season.”
Barring something incredible, Humphrey can expect his legacy to be his grab of Adam Griffith’s onside kick in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. With the score at 24-24 in the fourth quarter, the perfectly executed onside kick gave Alabama the ball back at midfield. Two plays later Jacob Coker’s 51-yard touchdown pass to tight end O.J. Howard gave Bama the lead for good in a 45-40 Tide victory over Clemson.
There has been speculation that the speedy Humphrey might be a good candidate for catching the kickoffs of opponents this season. He seemed less than enthusiastic about that possibility. “Umm,” he said, “I would, but I’m not gonna lie. I don’t know if I want to get hit. I do but at the same time, I think they put me running down and blocking for a reason.”
Humphrey went from a redshirt season to starting every game for Bama last year. He had 35 primary tackles and assisted on 10 others, forced two fumbles, broke up eight passes, and had three interceptions which he returned for 28 yards. His interceptions came against Georgia, Mississippi State, and in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game win over Florida.
Although Humphrey noted “The season goes by a lot faster if you’re playing,” he conceded, “that redshirt year helped me a lot when I look back on it. I didn’t know a lot of things I know now. I definitely think it was a positive thing.”
Although just a sophomore in football eligibility going into this season, he’s the veteran of the cornerback corps and finds himself answering questions from younger players. “It’s a little weird,” he said. “But it’s just weird to think I’m a redshirt sophomore and I’m not really that freshman that’s just learning. I’m figuring out little things that I didn’t know, maybe just different techniques and other styles.
“The main thing is I just try to practice hard, because I know that the younger guys, that’s who you look to when you’re younger and you’re confused on some things or in meetings. Sometimes you ask an older guy a question when you don’t exactly understand what (Coach Nick) Saban means. Typical freshman thing, not exactly understanding. Just try to do the things right that Saban teaches, set a good example.”
Is it difficult to understand Saban, who works with the cornerbacks in practice?
“Coming in younger, especially camp, things start getting mixed together,” Humphrey said. “Lots of times when I was younger, I would ask, ‘What, exactly,’ does he mean?’ I would ask one of our [graduate assistants].”
While “the world watches,” Alabama football players have said they haven’t had time to watch the Olympic Games being played in Rio. But Humphrey, who knows Devon Allen (“He should probably win the 110 hurdles”), intends to watch the track events.
And would he want to be running four years from now?
“I’ve got to stop gaining some weight,” said the 6-1, 200-pound Humphrey. “But we’ll see. We’ll see.”
He said that 200 is a comfortable football weight and that his speed is still there. And, he said, “If I need to take some off, I can.”
The benefit of track experience in football is the obvious: “Long speed,” Humphrey said. “We like to play a lot of man-to-man, so we’ve got to run a lot – a lot of go routes. It’s pretty tough to keep up with guys like Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart if you’re not fast.”
With wide receivers having good depth, Bama defensive backs get a lot of deep routes, Humphrey said. “They go deep one play and then they’ll kind of switch out and go deep on another play,” he said. “But that only makes us better as a DB corps.”
And that leads to another problem.
“Some days when you’re out there just dying, (Offensive Coordinator Lane) Kiffin just loves to ‘Check, check,’ throw another fade, another fade. With Kiffin out there, he’s just a mastermind with the play-calling. If he sees you tired, that’s when ‘Nah, forget the route, we’re gonna check.’ That’s usually how it goes.”