TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s Jalston Fowler isn’t trying to be the next Trent Richardson or Mark Ingram.
He’d rather follow in the heavy footsteps of big NFL running backs such as Jerome Bettis, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Jacobs.
“I try to mirror my game after them,” Fowler said.
The 6-foot-1, 246-pound Fowler — nicknamed “Nudie” since childhood — has been a mostly unheralded runner for the Crimson Tide though he did gain 125 yards against Mississippi last season. He has taken advantage of extra opportunities this spring with likely starter Eddie Lacy out while recovering from surgery to repair a turf toe injury.
More highly touted runners Dee Hart and T.J. Yeldon have no college experience.
Fowler seems to have thrived with the increased role. He ran for 151 yards and three touchdowns in the Tide’s scrimmage last weekend, leading a backfield that has produced two Heisman Trophy finalists in three years, including the 2009 winner Ingram.
Fowler’s mentality is as straightforward as his running style.
“You have to be physical, tough,” he said “You can’t be scared. You can’t shy away from contact.”
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In fact, contact is his specialty. Fowler often gets overlooked in a backfield loaded with blue-chip recruits, including five-star runners Hart, a redshirt-freshman, and newcomer Yeldon. Yeldon was rated one of the nation’s top two running backs in the 2012 class by two recruiting services.
Then there’s Fowler, the bruiser.
Coach Nick Saban said he’s faster than he looks, but is mostly a pounding runner and blocker, and a solid receiver.
“If you’re a power pitcher and you get 26 outs throwing fastballs, you ought not lose the game in the bottom of the ninth throwing a change-up,” Saban said. “That’s what I think. Jalston Fowler is what he is. He’s a big guy who’s hard to tackle and people don’t like to tackle him.”
Fowler did have a 69-yard touchdown against the Rebels and averaged 6.9 yards on 56 carries.
“I think he really fits well in our offense because he’s such a downhill runner. He’s so physical,” center Barrett Jones said. “I’ve never really seen a back as physical as him.
“He’s such a big load. I’ve really been pleased with the way he’s stepped in and become the No. 1 guy for us this spring. Just really become a leader, too. He sets a good example, he works hard every day. You can always count on him to do his job.”
Fowler also has one of the team’s more interesting nicknames.
“When I was a baby, my dad said he used to walk around and say, ‘This my Nudie baby. Can’t nobody have him. This my Nudie baby,’ ” Fowler said. “He’d say that all the time. Everybody asks me about that and I tell them the same story.”
Now, he’s the backfield’s old man with Lacy watching from the sideline. Fowler doesn’t have Lacy’s often-used spin move, the quickness of Hart or Yeldon’s speed.
The junior has been impressed with the youngsters. Hart missed last season after tearing a knee ligament in the summer. He was back practicing late in the season after coming in rated as one of the nation’s top all-purpose backs.
“They’re both improving and getting a lot better,” Fowler said. “Dee’s a fighter. He’s small but he’s feisty. He loves to fight. T.J., he’s got that speed. If he gets around that corner, you’re not going to catch him.”
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