HOOVER, Ala. — Landon Collins was asked to rate the recruiting pressure he felt coming out of Dutchtown High School on a scale of one to 10.
“I would give it a one to 1,000,” he said, the wisp of a wry smile creasing his face.
The younger Collins who pulled on an Alabama cap and gloves on national television at the 2012 Under Armour All-American Game was never prepared for the backlash his decision launched.
Not from his mother, who sat glumly beside him and then flashed an “L” for LSU hand gesture. Not from the angry and malicious messages from jilted LSU fans that hijacked his Twitter account.
“I didn’t think leaving Louisiana would be that bad,” Collins said.
“I don’t know why. Maybe because I was a top person at that position at the time and everyone wanted me. But for me to leave the state of Louisiana they felt I was a traitor to go with an archrival. If it was anywhere else, they probably would have been proud I went there.”
The older Collins who made his tour of interview rooms Thursday on the final day of Southeastern Conference media days has a bit of detachment about his recruitment now. Time heals, turning what were wounds into a scrapbook that looks like it was lived by someone else.
And Collins says even his mother, who looked just as glum as in 2012 when Landon’s half-brother Gerald Willis committed to Florida at this year’s Under Armour game, has accepted his decision to play for the Crimson Tide.
“She doesn’t have a favorite,” said Collins, sporting a silver letter “A” on the lapel of his gray suit next to a crimson handkerchief. “She treats us equal.
“She’s proud of my decision.”
There’s a reason to be proud.
Collins went from a bit player on Alabama’s 2012 national championship team to a nine-game starter who worked at both safety spots while earning second-team All-SEC honors.
To no one’s surprise, Collins earned preseason first-team All-SEC honors Thursday. He will have to be a leader on a defense that lost six starters from last year’s squad that brushed up against greatness once again before Auburn’s Chris Davis and his Kick Six return in the Iron Bowl stole it all away.
“It’s a great opportunity to be a leader of our defense,” he said.
For the LSU faithful who still get a bitter taste in their mouths watching Collins play for Alabama, there is the solace that this should be his last season in Tuscaloosa. Collins spoke openly Thursday of following in the footsteps of Alabama players who left early like fellow safety HaHa Clinton-Dix and offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and head off next spring for the NFL.
But first there will be one more trip “home,” to Tiger Stadium in November to play LSU.
It will be one more chance to show the home folks who have given him such a hard time what he’s missing.
“I’m a competitor and I always want to come out on top against them,” Collins said.
It’ll also be a chance to show recruits in Louisiana how great it can be to play for Alabama. His objective won’t endear him to any LSU fans, for sure.
“Recruiting-wise, we try our best to get every player out of Louisiana,” Collins said. “There’s always some great talent down there. Any person we recruit from there I try my best to get them up here because they’re going to have a great opportunity and great experience here.
“I give every recruit advice. We all talk about what we went through. That process is very hard. That’s going to be the next four years of your life. You have so many schools coming at you, so many opportunities to be great at each school, they’re coming at you so many ways with so many different things, it’s a very tough situation.
“With my recruitment, (Nick) Saban was straightforward with me. He didn’t tell me I would be starting, he just kept it straightforward. ‘You’ll have the opportunity to start, you’ll have the opportunity to play. You have to be able to gain my trust and show me you’re ready to play and that your maturity level has gone up, not down.’ ”
Collins’ maturity level has definitely grown, allowing him to understand some of the anger his recruiting decision generated.
But he’s still hoping to inflict a little more pain in his home state.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.