TUSCALOOSA — Of the 70 Alabama football players who’ll run out the tunnel and into Death Valley on Saturday, none will be as familiar with the surroundings as Phelon Jones.
Just two years ago, he did it on a regular basis.
No, Nick Saban isn’t the only one in crimson and while familiar with wearing purple and yellow.
Jones was a defensive back slipping further on the LSU depth chart the last time Alabama came to Baton Rouge. Now he’s climbing the Crimson Tide’s as he heads back to the stadium he once called home when No. 5 Alabama visits 12th ranked LSU at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
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Saban wasn’t greeted with much favor when he returned to Tiger Stadium in 2008 with Alabama, so does Jones expect a similarly unpleasant welcome?
“I hope not,” he said smiling. “I hope they wouldn’t do me like that.”
Coming out of Mobile’s McGill-Toolen High School in 2007, Jones was rated among the top high school defensive backs in the nation and was named Alabama’s Gatorade player of the year after his senior season.
After redshirting as a true freshman, he was ready to compete for a starting job in his second season. But the hiring of new defensive coordinator John Chavis changed the philosophy of the Tiger defense and limited Jones’ role, the junior said in the spring. He still played in nine of the 12 games and started as a dime back against North Texas and Troy and recorded six tackles in each the two games against Sun Belt Conference competition.
When the season ended, he began the search for a new school that ended in Tuscaloosa.
“Things just looked better here than at LSU,” Jones said. “All the coaches, the players, the program was great. I just saw a better fit at Alabama than I did at LSU.”
Transfer rules forced him to sit out the 2009 national championship season when he added a second national championship ring to the collection started with the 2007 LSU edition earned as a redshirt player on the scout team.
Now he is earning increased playing time coming off the biggest game of his brief Alabama career at Tennessee. Jones made four tackles including one of Tennessee receiver Da’Rick Rodgers for a 4-yard loss.
In all, Jones has 11 tackles and appeared in five of the eight games this season.
Defensive end Damion Square is glad to have Jones on his side when the Tide travels back to Baton Rouge for the first time since beating the Tigers 27-21 in overtime two years ago.
A few LSU tendencies remain, though, Square said.
“He talks about it from time to time when they play LSU’s fight music in the weight room,” Square said. “He might dance to it because he knows it pretty well. But he’s a part of our team of our team now.”