By Ben Stansell
Special to The Tuscaloosa News

Josh Jacobs hadn’t felt great after a football game in a long time. Not because he didn’t get to celebrate winning – he did plenty of that during Alabama’s almost perfect national championship run last season. No, it was the nagging injuries that hampered his ability to be the explosive, multi-dimensional running back he was during his freshman campaign.

A pulled hamstring limited Jacobs out of the gate in 2017, keeping him sidelined for Alabama’s first two games. He soldiered through a broken ankle that hobbled him from week five until the end of the season. While he was still able to produce, he was not nearly as effective.

But after Alabama’s 51-14 shellacking of Louisville last Saturday, no bodily ailments could stop Jacobs from feeling like a new man.

“This was probably the first game I just felt great after the game,” Jacobs said.

And he had good reason. On a night brimming with Alabama highlights, Jacobs made one of the biggest. Midway through the third quarter, he bounced off defenders and tight-roped the sideline on his way to returning a 77-yard kickoff for a touchdown. It was the first time a Crimson Tide player had taken one back to the house since Kenyan Drake did so in the 2015 national championship game against Clemson.

It wasn’t the first time Jacobs found the end zone in the third quarter. About four minutes earlier, Jacobs had scored out of the backfield, capping off an Alabama drive with an 18-yard scamper. Jacobs totaled 45 rushing yards on just six carries.

The importance of Jacob’s performance couldn’t be quantified solely in the box score, however. The game – the first he’s played on his surgically-repaired ankle – was about proving that he’s back to being the running back who posted 567 rushing yards and four touchdowns during his freshman season.

“I think that was a moment announcing to myself that I was back,” Jacobs said. “It was good to see like whenever I did something huge how my teammates reacted to it. They’re happy to see me back, too.”

Offensive lineman Jonah Williams sustained a high ankle sprain in last year’s national title game against Georgia; He had a firsthand view at the work Jacobs put in this offseason to get back on the field.

“He and I both got injured around the same time and went through the rehab process together,” Williams said. “So it was great to see him out there literally hitting the field running, coming out with that kickoff return, a couple of the other big plays he made on offense.”

Now that he’s 100 percent again, Jacobs’ teammates expect the versatile running back to deliver even more big plays.

“We’ve all known what he (Jacobs) can do,” said tight end Irv Smith Jr. “He’s been injured and had a little down-play. I feel like it’s time now for him to show everybody what he’s capable of. Y’all got a little sample of it last week.”