TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — To use a poker term, Robert Foster is all-in — and he wants everyone to know it.
That’s all-in in terms of dedication, focus and embracing the role of being a veteran leader on the University of Alabama football team. Not only is he saying the right things during the Crimson Tide’s training camp, and not coming across like he’s just stating what others want to hear, he’s backing it up like his predecessors did.
“I hope we have that same mentality as ArDarius Stewart, Amari Cooper, Christion Jones, Kenny Bell,” he said. “Me being a fiver, a five-year senior, I’ve learned from a lot of receivers, each and every one of them. Mentally, physically, if things aren’t going your way, I’ve learned from a lot of them and I hope we all step up.”
Having a sense of urgency is understandable for Foster, as this is his last go-round with the Crimson Tide. While Alabama’s had a lot of success at the wide receiver position, his career numbers have been lacking — 21 catches, 215 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Foster’s speed and potential always have been there. He was a highly regarded prospect from Monaca, Pa., and joined Alabama’s stellar 2013 recruiting class that included Derrick Henry, Reuben Foster, Jonathan Allen, O.J. Howard and A’Shawn Robinson. They’ve all moved on to the NFL along with Stewart, Tim Williams and Eddie Jackson.
His maturity seems to have caught up. The player wearing No. 1 on his jersey has become one of the players counted on to do things such as lead drills.
As for his toughness, no one questions it. Earlier this summer Foster was hit by a car while riding his dirt bike. He needed 27 stitches in his back, plus a couple more in his wrist.
“My blessings are out there,” he said.
Even though Foster redshirted his first season in 2013, when Cooper, Kevin Norwood, DeAndrew White and Jones all had at least 32 receptions, Foster looked like he was on the fast track.
He landed a starting role in 2015 and made 10 catches for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns in his first three games, only to suffer a season-ending shoulder injury against Ole Miss. The guy who took his place was Calvin Ridley, who went on to post a 1,000-yard season, while Stewart locked down the other starting job.
Foster’s frustration reached its peak last season when he played in 10 games and made just 5 receptions for 55 yards. Specifically, the reserve caught 3 passes for 13 yards against Western Kentucky and had 2 for 42 yards vs. Kentucky. His 27-yard gain against the Wildcats was the longest of his career.
With his production lacking, Foster admitted to Duane Rankin of The Montgomery Advertiser that he was thinking about departing, possibly as a graduate assistant. Fans started paying close attention to his Twitter account, looking for an announcement.
“It’s just a process that God got working for me now,” Foster told Rankin. “If it’s here, or if it’s elsewhere, I know that I’m going to be strong as a man to handle it.”
That announcement was never made, and even though Foster has yet to graduate, he had a change of heart. By spring it was almost as if he’d had a fresh start, complete with new position coach Mike Locksley.
When asked how close he came to leaving, Foster responded: “I’d really rather not speak on that now because I’m here, I’m happy.”
Now it’s on him to come through.
Jalen Hurts throwing to Robert Foster, Jerry Jeudy and Terrell Shavers pic.twitter.com/N1F4c6EoHT
— Marq Burnett (@Marq_Burnett) August 8, 2017
“One thing I never want to do is quit,” Foster said. “I want to be a leader, not just for my team and not just for my receivers or any of the offense.
“One thing I’ve noticed is quitting won’t get you [anywhere] in life, so I hope my mentality will help everyone, the young kids and things in general.”
The first significant sign of that change occurred after a spring scrimmage, when Foster was one of the players Nick Saban singled out for praise. Alabama didn’t release any statistics, but the telling word that the coach used was “engaged.”
“Robert Foster was good.”
Although true freshman Jerry Jeudy subsequently earned the MVP award during Alabama’s A-Day scrimmage, fans got a glimpse of the potential of the starting tandem of Foster and Ridley, along with senior Cam Sims in the slot. Granted, the passing game was being emphasized and new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll wasn’t going to show much with future opponents watching on television, but it was obvious that the receivers were more comfortable with sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Foster had two big plays, a 65-yard touchdown in which he broke free in single coverage, and a 50-yard gain. Ridley had 4 receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s kind of opened up a little more and you can see him as a leader on the team,” Hurts said about Foster. “He makes plays and he’s a baller.”
Saban concurred: “Certainly a guy who would be a real plus for us because of the speed that he has, the vertical ability that he gives us on the outside. I think he’s playing better than he did a year ago and hopefully he will continue to improve and have a role on the team. I think we need for him to do that.”
— Mike Bires (@mikebires) August 3, 2017
Actually, Alabama needs more than that from Foster. The passing game needs a deep threat to keep the secondary honest against the run plus keep the downfield focus from being solely on Ridley.
Additionally, Stewart brought swagger to the unit, calling the receivers “assassins” and carried an axe to reinforce the idea. Saban often talks about how the defense needs “alpha-dog” type leaders. Stewart was like that for the offense.
Foster says all of the receivers have the potential to be like that, including himself, and Ridley claims it should be the mindset on the entire offense.
“We want everyone in the world to know that Alabama’s offense looks like that old Alabama offense — go down the field and score points,” Ridley said.
Those are the approaches and attitudes that the coaches have been cultivating, especially since the next wave of receivers is already on campus and poised to contribute.
To Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Devonta Smith and even converted running back Chadarius Townsend, Foster’s advice is simple: Get involved and buy in now, because becoming Alabama’s next receiving ace isn’t just about catching the ball.
There’s no bluffing involved.
“Take a role. Be a leader on the team, and be a leader on and off the field,” Foster said. “No one’s going to be perfect, but lead it in a way for us to be perfect.”