I requested to do this Senior Salute to Jalston "Nudie" Fowler for a few reasons. Like interior linemen, specialists, and blocking tight ends, I appreciate unheralded guys whose names are rarely called. It doesn't take twenty-two guys to field a team; it takes all 101 of them: scout-teamers, redshirts, walk-ons, guys getting their degrees who rarely make the participation stats. And, of course, it takes selfless, team-first players to build a championship program. Jalston Fowler's Alabama tenure has epitomized the team concept, and for his selflessness, undeniable athleticism, and on-field production, he earned a 2014 Captaincy, and a soaring draft stock that will likely see him as one of the first, if not the first, fullbacks taken in the April NFL Draft.
High School and Recruitment
Fowler is a Pritchard product, and he attended perennial Gulf power Vigor High School, where he graduated in the Fall of 2009. While at Vigor, Fowler racked up numerous accolades and honors, including leading the 2008 Wolves to the 5A Alabama State Championship. In 2009, he rushed for 25 Tds and nearly 1200 yards, while catching 27 passes for nearly 400 more. He was an Alabama Sports Writers 5A All-State selection, and was also considered one of the Wolves' best linebackers. Given his accomplishments, Nudie was a four-star, very highly-rated prospect in 2009. He was overall the third-highest fullback in his class, and was considered the 11th best prospect in the state.
However, there was little doubt that at his size (6', 240) he was a prototypical, versatile Saban "big back" in the lines of Mark Ingram and Eddie Lacy etc. Given Fowler's touted status, and his reputation in the state and region, you would have imagined he would shop some programs around. However, there seemed to be no doubt in Fowler's mind - he never even took an official visit to Tuscaloosa, and committed to the Capstone as an early enrollee.
Jalston's tenure at Alabama was somewhat tumultuous, featuring numerous staff changes that absolutely impacted the all-purpose running back. He entered the 2010 season under former-Offensive Coordinator (and now Gator head man) Jim McElwain. Coach Mac, as we all remember, is and remains a devotee of single set monsters in the backfield, playing behind a huge line. It was in this system, and on special teams, that Fowler got his first playing time.
As a Freshman, Fowler played in 11 of the Tide's games, tallying 14 carries for 111 yards and a TD - a healthy 7.9 YPC average. He was also a contributor on special teams, and was credited for tackles in two games. Those per-carry numbers were not a fluke, either. In 2011's BCS National Championship season, Nudie played in every game as the Tide's third-down back, netting 385 yards on 56 carries. He had 16 first down rushing conversions and averaged 7 yards per carry. Fowler also split time at H-back, fullback on short- and goal line-yardage situations, while still contributing on special teams.
2011, however, would also see the end of Coach McElwain's Alabama tenure, and usher in the Nussmeier era. 2012 arrived, and Nussmeier's offense -not significantly different in the running game, though more pass-friendly, saw Fowler switch positions from a true running back to a hybrid H-back/FB. However, just six quarters into the season, and after and 11 carries, 85 yards, and a reception, Jalston's season ended with a left knee injury. he was granted a redshirt. 2012 would also see offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland's departure, following the debacle at the University of Miami.
In Fowler's Junior 2013 season he faced an uncertain knee, an uncertain position, his second offensive coordinator, a passing offense, and his second line coach. This season would also mark his growth into much more of a true fullback. The transition was marked by growing pains, naturally, particularly in blocking for upbacks. But, for the first time in his career, Fowler's incredibly soft hands were showcased, particularly on the goal line. While he only caught seven passes for 15 yards, an amazing five of those catches went for touchdowns. And, when pressed into service versus Colorado State, the team-first Fowler started at tailback, rushing for 88 yards on 20 carries. As with 2011, though, Alabama would lose yet another coordinator - this time, playcaller Nussmeier. Enter 2014, Fowler's third OC, and an entirely new, fullback-friendly offense under Coach Lane Kiffin.
As a fifth year senior for the 12-2 SEC Champions, Jalston Fowler was nothing short of a revelation. The offense featured more two-back sets (it is estimated that Fowler played 60% of all offensive snaps,) and Nudie was used not just as a dominating blocker and a running threat, but also as a terrifying matchup on swing passes and screens. His blocking improved tremendously, particularly in the running game. Gone were attempts to "try and fit him into" the offense; in its place was a position switch and a buying-in...complete with transformation intoa 6'1", 260-pound bruiser. Fowler netted 12 carries for 69 rushing yards, and 11 receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns. But, what will not show on stat sheets are his silent contributions to a dynamic Alabama offense; as Blake Sims' protector; and as TJ Yeldon's best friend.
Jalston Fowler is a two-time alum at the University of Alabama, possessing a BA in Health Studies and a Masters degree in Sports Management. He has a son, of whom he is rightly proud. For his selfless contributions over the past five seasons, for making the 2014 season special, for being an excellent ambassador for the program and for the University, I cannot thank him enough. He leaves us as a two-time National Champion, a two-time SEC Champion, and an alum.
Best of luck to you, Jalston, and Roll Tide.