Javier Arenas: Still work to do

Coming out of high school Javier Arenas only had two offers to play football. Florida Atlantic University had offered the Tampa area prospect early on, and Arenas had committed to the South Florida school. Still, the desire was there to play football at the highest level possible. The question was, would that opportunity ever come.

The University of Alabama had finished the 2005 football season with a 10-2 record and a 13-10 victory over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. Despite the record, the Tide had struggled mightily in their return game after Tyrone Prothro had suffered a catastrophic injury to his left leg early in the year against the Florida Gators.

Javier Arenas had little idea when he started his senior season the following February he would sign with Alabama. The only thing he could do was concentrate on his senior year and hope to catch someone's attention with his play on the field.

At 5-9 and 180 pounds many considered him undersized to play corner at the next level. His best bet was to catch the attention of recruiters as a return man, where he excelled in high school.

Arenas acted as return man on both punts and kick returns for the Robinson High School Knights. He'd come into the season as one of the Tampa area's top returning seniors and didn't disappoint anyone's expectations.

During his senior year Arenas returned three kickoffs and four punt returns for touchdowns. The Crimson Tide's special teams coach that year was Dave Ungerer. As fate would have it he also recruited the Tampa area for Alabama.

Ungerer made a visit to watch Arenas play and later requested game film to show the rest of the Tide staff. His stats as a returner couldn't be argued with and neither could his 4.5 speed. The concern was whether Alabama could afford to spend a scholarship on a return man.

The Crimson Tide coaches waited right up until almost signing day before making their decision. After defensive coaches finally signed off on Arenas as a corner prospect as well as a kick returner, Arenas received an offer on January 24.

Despite having never seen the Alabama campus Arenas quickly accepted saying, "You can't really express the feeling. It was overwhelming. I always knew what I was capable of. Finally somebody realized it."

Arenas got off to a quick start in his Alabama career returning two punts for touchdowns his freshman season. His first came against Florida International and covered 65 yards. Later on that season he set an Alabama and Independence Bowl record by returning a punt 86 yards for a touchdown against Oklahoma State.

His sophomore year saw him return a punt against LSU for a 61 yard touchdown. He also set up scores against Arkansas and Ole Miss with returns of 58 and 54 yards respectively.

Arenas also saw his first significant playing time in the secondary. He totaled 20 tackles on the season and broke up his first pass.

His junior year would have been a career year for most FBS return men. He led the nation in punt return yards while setting an Alabama record. He also had touchdown returns of 87, 80, and 73 yards.

He finally proved wrong the critics who said he was too small to play corner in the SEC. He started at corner defending eight total passes with seven pass breakups. He was fifth on the team in tackles with 63. He had 3.5 tackles for loss with two sacks.

Arenas also had his first interception, coming against Arkansas, which he returned 63 yards for a touchdown. He was named Second Team All-SEC as both a corner and a return specialist.

Three seasons into his Alabama career Arenas has made good on that late scholarship offer. Heading into his senior season he holds the records for punt return yards in a game, season, and career. He also holds the record for punt returns for touchdowns with six. He ranks just ahead of Alabama-great Harry Gilmer in career yards per punt return.

What lies ahead for Arenas in his senior season remains to be seen. One thing is for sure he won't be worrying about extending personal records. His goal instead is to get back to Atlanta and the SEC title game to win the SEC Championship.

He realizes the team came up short last year, and he just wants to see that corrected. Arenas isn't worried about the NFL draft. He believes it will happen, and other than that doesn't intend to put any thought into it.

Arenas is going to play his final season no different than he did with the first three. He believes he owes that much to his teammates.

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