Woodall Feels More Comfortable This Year

Justin Woodall has been accused of "not living up to the hype." How could he? Not many players have gone from high school to college with expectations as high as they were for the safety from Oxford, Miss.

Neither Justin Woodall nor Alabama Coach Nick Saban are looking back, though. The eye is on the future for Woodall, a junior who is starting for the first time this season. Last week in a 41-7 win over Western Kentucky, Woodall was named one of the Crimson Tide "Players of the Week" by the Bama coaching staff for his defensive play.

Woodall was in on five tackles, including one for a loss, and had a pass break-up, caused a fumble, and intercepted a pass.

"Justin played his best game," Saban said. "He had big hits and big plays."

The coach added, "That's what we're looking for from Justin on a consistent basis."

It hasn't come as easily as might have been expected. "We've pushed and pushed and pushed because of his ability," Saban said.

Prior to this season Woodall had only spot duty, mostly on special teams, seeing action in 17 games. Over a two-year span he was in on six tackles, only one more than he made against Western Kentucky last Saturday.

He played in only five games last season and admitted he had "second thoughts." Woodall said, "Sitting on the bench was frustrating for me. But I rode it out, and it paid off."

There has been frustration on the part of Bama fans and coaches, too. Ever since his arrival at The University, the 6-2, 220-pound Woodall has been described as one of Alabama's most athletic players.

Woodall gave up a lot to play football at Alabama. He was an outstanding prep baseball player and had a contract offer from the New York Mets. He turned it down to play college football.

"I like baseball, but there's not enough movement for me," Woodall said. Although he batted .421 as a prep senior, he said he prefers to get his hits on the football field.

"I like contact," he said.

He was also an outstanding football prospect at Lafayette County High School in Oxford, Miss., a two-time all-state player who tied the Mississippi prep record with 17 interceptions his junior year.

The highlight of his Alabama career to date was a blocked punt he turned in against Ole Miss, the college team in his hometown, last season.

Woodall said his game against Western Kentucky last weekend "boosted my confidence a lot. I played fast and smart. I didn't have any mental errors."

Woodall said he is getting a lot of help from his cohort at safety, senior star Rashad Johnson. "He has helped me see better," Woodall said. "It's coming easier so I can just go out and play full speed.

He said his interception against Western Kentucky came because of preparation. "I was able to cheat a little on the pass," he said. "I knew from watching tape what to expect. They set up and threw what I expected."

There was no runback, though. "My momentum took me out of bounds," he said.

Alabama fans hope Woodall's momentum as a top defensive back continues.

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