They call them the Rug Rats.
The freshmen wide receiver trio of Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III have made their mark on this year’s Alabama team all the while knowing they’re the future at the position for Alabama.
The nickname stems not from the Ruggs surname, although that would be a good guess, but from all three’s willingness to do the dirty work needed to get playing time at Alabama.
“The young guys, we call them the rug rats because all three of those guys have shown the willingness to play without the football,” UA wide receivers coach Mike Locksley said. “They may not get a bunch of catches, but when they’re on the field they play hard and with good effort and they get excited when other guys make plays.”
Don’t get it twisted. All three have big plays for Alabama this year even with limited opportunities. Jeudy has 13 receptions, Henry seven and Smith six.
But Jeudy made the highlight touchdown catch against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, five of Ruggs’ seven catches have been for touchdowns and Smith caught the game-winning touchdown pass against Mississippi State. As one might imagine, it was his favorite moment of the season.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” Smith said. “When they called the play and I saw how the defense was set up, I felt I had a chance to get this ball. I was like, ‘Just catch it and get as much as you can.’ And then when I saw the safety and I broke a tackle. There you go. That’s what I came here to do. It’s just like any other play. Just bigger.”
The three made their impact nearly as soon as they arrived on campus. Jeudy made a couple of highlight catches during the A-Day spring game, and when Smith and Ruggs arrived a few months later for the summer term, it was apparent that it would be difficult to keep all three of them off the field.
The first game of the season against Florida State, billed at the time as the greatest opening college football game of all time, all three were on the field early in the game.
“Those three freshmen all run out together as a package within the first five or six plays of a game like that,” Locksley said. “That shows the confidence that we had in them.”
Ruggs made the most of his limited receptions this year with an uncanny touchdown to reception rate. It became a joke among the receivers.
“It was crazy just because I wasn’t getting many passes, but the ones I was getting I was converting for touchdowns,” he said. “Everybody looked at it as, ‘Well all you do as catch touchdowns.’ It was kind of humorous for me.”
Those targets — for all three — will certainly go up next season when the team loses seniors Cam Sims and Robert Foster and it could lose Calvin Ridley too. But for this year, the freshmen have learned the virtue of patience while also making their mark.
“It’s been a great year, being able to contribute in your first year,” Jeudy said. “When your number is called you just have to make the play. We’re winning so, hey, that’s all that matters.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.