Unless you follow Alabama recruiting with intense daily scrutiny — or were so immersed in college football in 2017 that you instantly recognize Temple’s backup placekicker — then Austin Jones probably isn’t a prominent name in your household.
That could change in the fall.
Jones has finished up his undergraduate career in Philadelphia and announced on Monday that he would be a grad transfer with the Crimson Tide in the upcoming season. He is coming off a knee injury, which is why he didn’t kick at all in Temple’s last eight games, so “backup” doesn’t tell the entire story.
For most of his Temple career, he was the starter, an accurate kicker from inside 40-yard range who rarely attempted any long-distance field goals, though he did make one 47-yarder as a sophomore. If that doesn’t sound like the Janikowski clone that Alabama has yearned for, it doesn’t sound all bad.
Jones will likely compete with 2017 signee Joseph Bulovas for the position this spring, with the usual walk-ons also trying for the job. Whoever does win it will be subjected to instant scrutiny. That’s standard procedure every year, although it might reach new heights this fall. Alabama fans await the 2018 offense with excitement. They will greet the revamped 2018 defense with confidence. They will approach their kickers — and let’s not even get started on the daunting task of replacing J.K. Scott yet — with queasiness, if now downright fear. In a year that will (again) have national championship expectations, the search for a flaw, a chink in the armor, will begin every time the offense faces a fourth down. Nick Saban never reached the point of abandoning all hope and going for every red-zone fourth down, although his expression at the end of regulation against Georgia showed hints of remorse.
One of the tender mercies that accompanied Tua Tagovailoa’s touchdown pass against Georgia in the CFP Championship Game was that it kept Andy Pappanastos from a cruel legacy. Instead of the guy that lost the championship, Pappanastos will be remembered more fairly as the young man who did miss in the final seconds of regulation but also made two important kicks earlier in the game and had a decent year outside of the Georgia Dome. (He was 13 of 16 away from Atlanta and none of the three misses affected the outcome of three blowout wins.) He won’t be remembered as one of the all-time Alabama greats — the Davises, the Tiffins, Peter Kim, Philip Doyle and Michael Proctor are probably on that list in the modern era — but he won’t be vilified, either.
Jones, or Bulovas, or some other candidate that emerges unexpectedly in the race to kick, may face the same moment in 2018. There is a chance to be a hero across the state and beyond. There’s a good chance that it doesn’t have to be a superhero, rattling in kicks from midfield. There may not be a single moment like Van Tiffin against Auburn in 1985, Doyle against Tennessee in or even Jamie (Money) Christensen with a game-winning knuckleball in the 2005 Cotton Bowl. A blue-collar reliable hero will do, no cape required.
That should be enough pressure for anyone.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.