Arenas Was Key In First Meeting
It was a little bit of a surprise when Alabama cornerback and kick return specialist Javier Arenas demurred briefly when asked to recall his first punt return, which went for a touchdown against Florida International. "That was a long time ago," he protested.
Eventually, though, the details came out.
It was memorable in part because the punt return came on October 28, 2006, Arenas's 19th birthday. He was a freshman in Alabama's first ever meeting against Florida International. FIU had taken a 3-0 lead, but Alabama had begun a comeback and led 10-3 early in the third quarter.
Arenas said the FIU punter had been making "some short kicks, so I was focused on catching the ball. I caught the punt running towards the sidelines and really just wanted to go that way. Then everything opened up. I got some great blocks and was able to get my first touchdown. It was a fun experience."
Arenas, who now has six punt returns for touchdowns in his Alabama career, had scored on a 65-yard return. It was Alabama's first punt return for a touchdown since 2003.
"I got my feet wet," Arenas said. "I established myself a little bit. Not fully."
Alabama went on to a 38-3 victory in the game, but Arenas remembers the Golden Panthers as being a challenge. And he said Saturday's game against FIU will be a challenge. "They have a lot of talented players," he said. "They are a very competitive team. They can present a problem. On any given Saturday...."
Asked about the perception that Alabama, ranked fourth in the nation and coming off a win over Virginia Tech, which was ranked seventh in the nation, should roll over FIU, Arenas said, "From my experience, I think back to Louisiana-Monroe." In 2007, Alabama lost a 21-14 game to Louisiana-Monroe at Bryant-Denny Stadium. "The fans in the stands can think it will be like that, but we can't think that way."
Arenas said that he looks forward to the challenge of playing a team like FIU. In the words of Bama Coach Nick Saban, the Panthers will "spread it out and throw the ball all over the park."
"I'd rather play a team that passes than a team that runs it most of the time," Arenas said.
There's a particular challenge at wide receiver for FIU. Scout Freshman All-America T.Y. Hilton was described by Saban earlier this week as "better than anyone" who played for Virginia Tech. He was Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year last season. "He's dynamic, real fast. Coach (Saban) has been around football 30-something years and his opinion counts. We'll have to bring our ‘A' Game against him.
As a freshman, Hilton (5-9, 168 from famed Miami Springs High School) had 41 receptions for 1,013 yards and seven touchdowns. He ranked third in the nation in all-purpose yards per game (180.25) and ninth in punt return yards per game (14.78).
Hilton reportedly vowed to score a touchdown the first time he touched the ball in a college football game. That came when he received a punt against Kansas. He returned it 74 yards for a touchdown. He has scored touchdowns as a receiver, punt returner, kickoff returner, and has passed for a touchdown as a quarterback.
Alabama and FIU will play at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. It will be the season-opener for the Golden Panthers. Bama is coming off a 34-24 win over Virginia Tech in Atlanta.
"We didn't play that great, but the overall result was that we were successful," Arenas said. "We held them to 155 yards? Think what it would have been if we had eliminated a few mistakes."
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