MIAMI — T.J. Yeldon opened his Alabama career by rolling through Michigan's defense for 111 yards, and fellow freshman Amari Cooper took note.
Performing in the face of huge crowds and big, fast college defenders wasn't so hard after all, he figured. It's still football.
He was like, ‘Oh, this is easy,' Cooper said. I didn't have a big game that day, but I could see it was easy.
Cooper didn't break out as a freshman star until later for the Crimson Tide. But both have shined this season and get their biggest opportunity on Monday — against the terrific defense of top-ranked Notre Dame with a BCS championship on the line.
The tailback Yeldon and receiver Cooper have already put up nice numbers and plays that helped put the Tide into this position.
Alabama beat LSU on Yeldon's 28-yard screen pass in the last minute.
Cooper's late 45-yard touchdown catch was the final score of a 32-28 win over Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship, when Yeldon ran for a season-high 153 yards.
It's nothing unusual for Nick Saban to call on the youngsters to play pivotal roles. Yeldon follows 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and 2011 finalist Trent Richardson in a string of quick-learning tailbacks.
And Cooper is challenging Julio Jones' freshman receiving records for Alabama.
Coach Saban always says, ‘If you're good enough, you're old enough,' Cooper said. If you're good enough to play and you show the maturity, then they'll allow you to do that.
Their freshman finale will be the biggest test to their maturity.
It's very exciting, but I don't know how to explain it, said Yeldon, who has received occasional postgame counsel from both Richardson and Ingram. It's pretty fun.
Cooper lets his excitement show a little more. He said he's spent time this week envisioning himself making big plays, but added he always does that before a game.
It's a great opportunity, Cooper said. That's what we've worked so hard for all our lives. It's a great opportunity and I'm happy to be able to showcase it here in Miami for the national championship.