On an island: Anthony Averett locks down receivers at cornerback

On an island: Anthony Averett locks down receivers at cornerback

There are always stories surrounding Alabama’s football program about players who wait their turn. Recruits come in after being national stars and have to wait two or three years to get significant action. Some can’t handle it and transfer. Others just keep their head down and grind until they earn a starting spot.

Cornerback Anthony Averett belongs to the latter. He did not win a starting spot until his fourth year in the program. The wait did not bother him. He said it helped him learn a lot about himself. 

“Everybody has a story,” Averett said. “ When you first come here, everybody don’t get to play right away. I was one of those guys that didn’t. I think it plays out. I’m not the only one. There’s a lot of us that really went through that same process like me. I think it’s very important. It shows maturity.”

Before he was a leader on Alabama’s defense, Averett was a two-way player at Woodbury High School in New Jersey, but felt he had more experience on offense. Once he got to Tuscaloosa, he had a yearning for the other side of the ball. He had to learn all of the nuances and techniques of being a cornerback at Alabama, a process that wasn't easy for him.

“I actually wanted to play defense,” Averett said. “I was strictly an offensive-type of guy in high school. So that whole process was different, coming in here trying to learn everything about defense. That's kind of why I waited so long to play.”

Averett’s wait paid off. Before this year, he finally got the chance to start on defense in Alabama’s opener against USC last year. Like most guys, he wanted to seize the opportunity that he waited four years for. He said the moment got to him early on, but once he settled in, he started to play well.

“I got big eyes last year when it was my first time starting against USC,” Averett said. “I mean, I let up a huge pass last year. It's just part of it, especially at corner. You're on an island, everybody can see you in a one-on-one type of matchup kind of thing.”

He has developed into one of Alabama’s most consistent defensive players, dating back to last season. He locked down receivers, and many national media outlets started to take notice. 

According to Pro Football Focus, Averett ranked ninth in draft-eligible cornerbacks in forced incompletion percentage at 23.2 percent last season. He also tallied eight pass breakups last season and forced two fumbles from the cornerback position. His breakout year led him to rank No. 1 on Lance Zerlien’s NFL cornerback prospects to watch during the 2017 season.

Averett has put in a lot of work to get to that point. Alabama head coach Nick Saban said a player like Averett is important to any program. He said his patience made him the player he is today.

“We think that you have to have some guys like Anthony Averett in the program who are willing to make the sacrifices to spend the time to develop so that they can become a really good player,” Saban said. "I think his example of that is something that other players should look at.”

Averett was never short on athleticism. His speed and ability to fly with the ball on offense, and locate the ball on defense earned him a four-star rating. Athleticism was never the thing he needed to be a great player. He just needed to develop to play the position at a high level.

“Anthony (is) like a lot of guys that didn’t really ever play the position in high school,” Saban said. “I think it takes a little longer for them to develop if they ever play a new position, especially if you take a guy from offense to defense. We recruited Anthony because of his athleticism, his speed. He’s worked hard and has become a very good player for us.”

Averett is just one of many examples of Alabama players who wait their turn and become key players. If you look across Alabama’s defense, you can spot multiple other players who have done the same: Keith Holcombe, Levi Wallace and Rashaan Evans, to name a few. 

Holcombe, who is getting his opportunity this season just like Averett did, believes players like Averett are extremely important to having a successful team.

“That’s what you want, because they're all in for the team,” Holcombe said. “That’s how we want to be remembered and that’s how we want to have our team shaped. It’s not about the individual. It’s about the team.”

Averett’s season is already off to a good start. The redshirt season got his first interception of his career against Fresno State. Even though everyone knows who he is now, he still keeps the same mentality as he did when he was a freshman.

“I’ve definitely embraced that role,” Averett said. “I’ve worked hard. It’s definitely paid off. I’m blessed for it.”

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