editor’s note: T.J. Walls was kind enough to share this story, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
By T.J. Walls
Through the years, Alabama has been known for its outstanding centers. From 1994 to 1996, John Causey was one in a long line of All-SEC centers to play for the Crimson Tide.
Causey signed with Alabama in February 1992 out of Lowndes Academy in Lowndesboro, AL. During his playing days at Alabama under head coach Gene Stallings, Causey helped the Tide to two SEC West titles and two bowl victories, including wins over Ohio State in the 1995 Citrus Bowl and Michigan in the 1997 Outback Bowl, which was the last game coached by Stallings.
Causey graduated from the University in 1996. Since that time, he’s been a successful sales representative in the pharmaceutical industry. In 2007, Causey got back into the game he loves, taking on a second job as the defensive coordinator at American Christian Academy in Tuscaloosa.
I recently caught up with John Causey to discuss memories of his playing days at Alabama.
Q&A with John Causey
T.J. Walls: John, start off by talking about when you were recruited. There was a time early on when it appeared that you might be heading to Auburn.
John Causey: Well, Auburn was the first school that recruited me. Coach Dye was still at Auburn at the time and he would call me and talk to me about coming to play for him at Auburn. Every time I got a call from Auburn, it was Coach Dye calling. He knew all along that Alabama was in my heart and that’s where I wanted to go.
TJW: So, is it safe to say that it was your dream to play for the Crimson Tide?
JC: Very much so. For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to play for the University of Alabama. I guess you could say that was one of my dreams.
TJW: Which schools recruited you?
JC: Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Missâ€¦ most of the SEC schools recruited me. So I don’t think that playing for a small high school was that big of an issue.
TJW: Recruiting coverage has changed so much since you came out of high school.
JC: Yes, it has. First of all, there was no internet. The only recruiting publication that I can recall was a magazine by Forrest Davis. There were no star systems. You were either a blue-chip prospect or you weren’t.
TJW: You mentioned that Pat Dye recruited you for Auburn. Who recruited for Alabama?
JC: Coach [Jeff] Rouzie recruited me. My goal was to make it to Alabama. He didn’t have to use a special pitch to get me. Even though I received other offers from other schools, I would have still walked on at Alabama.
TJW: You were redshirted as a freshman on the 1992 national championship team. Two years later in 1994, you were starting at center as a redshirt sophomore.
JC: Tobie Shields had been the starter and he was gone after 1993. They needed a center. The spring before the 94 season they were working Jon Stevenson at guard and center. Then they tried me at center. I had never snapped a football in my life before then.
TJW: But you became the starter in a game that is one of the most memorable games in Alabama history — the 1994 Georgia game in Tuscaloosa.
JC: That’s exactly right. I had been playing some in the games leading up to the Georgia game. I played about half the snaps the week before against Tulane. I remember Coach Fuller coming up to me when we went back to practice after the Tulane game. He asked me how I thought I played. I told him that I thought I played well. He said, “That’s good, because you’re going to start against Georgia.” I wasn’t shocked or surprised, because that’s why I went to Alabama. I went to play, not just sit around.
TJW: That Georgia game has to be special for you.
JC: It was a heck of a first start. It was a night game. It was Georgia. It was Eric Zeier. It was national television on ESPN. It was a special night at Bryant Denny. Afternoon games at Bryant Denny can be flat sometimes. But that night Bryant Denny was electric. That’s the only way I can put it. I recall that it was so loud that you literally couldn’t hear the snap count. We fell behind early and came back to win 29-28 late in the game.
TJW: Jay Barker really had a great game that night.
JC: I think Jay took that game kind of personally. Eric Zeier was at Georgia and Jay was kind of like the “other” quarterback playing in the game. I think that game Jay felt that he had something to prove. That was the thing about Jay, he was always a winner. I remember people would always ask me if he was really the person he portrayed himself to be. It was like people were hoping to hear something bad about him. But he was really a sincere person.
TJW: What was it like being in the huddle with Jay?
JC: There was no question who was in charge. He wasn’t really vocal and aggressive, like Tim Tebow. Jay Barker and Tim Tebow are both leaders and men of faith. Both were spiritually grounded, but Jay Barker led by example without the aggression. The look in Jay’s eyes and his mannerisms were all that was needed. Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
TJW: Who were the coaches that had the most impact on you at Alabama?
JC: One was my position coach, Jim Fuller. He made me grow up. He pushed me to the limit. He cared about me as a person, not just a football player. Also, I got really close with Coach Stallings my senior year. You would know where you stood with Coach Stallings. He developed and instilled character in his players.
TJW: What was it like playing for Gene Stallings?
JC: Playing for Coach Stallings, there were no surprises. He knew every day, every play, every drill. He expected excellence in every aspect of being a student-athlete at the University of Alabama. He demanded it. He brought it out in you. If you weren’t willing, and if he could not bring it out of you, you were gone.
TJW: There were stories that early in Shaun Alexander’s career, Coach Stallings was pretty tough on Shaun for not going all out in practices.
JC: Oh yeah. He would lash into him. This was a guy that ended up being the MVP of the NFL. Coach Stallings would call him out for not putting all his effort into the drills. He was just making Shaun the best he could be.
TJW: You’ve had some opportunities to be around Coach Saban. What do you think of him?
JC: Coach Saban has opened things back up for former players. There was a time around there recently that we former players weren’t made to feel welcomed. Coach Saban has changed that. He’s been very receptive to spending time with the former players at functions and making us feel a part of the program again. I think he’s doing a great job. It’s a different generation of player now. It’s not like it was when I played. Players are different. He does a great job of relating to the players of today.
TJW: Do you see any similarities between Coach Saban and Coach Stallings?
JC: Yes. There is no question as to who is in charge. You have a head coach and a pecking order. Everyone knows where they are supposed to be. Like Coach Stallings, I think Coach Saban knows the importance of getting the right football player at the University. That was Coach Stallings’ big thing. He wanted to find the player that wanted to be at Alabama. He wanted players that it meant something to them. Both Coach Stallings and Coach Saban know the importance of assistant coaches. The head coach is only as good as the players he has playing for him. If you don’t have the players or the assistant coaches, it’s not going to run quite as well as it could