OU vs. Alabama: The story behind college football's most unlikely star
TULSA — Marty Jacobs spent years avoiding cameras.
In his younger days when he hung with people he shouldn't and did things he oughtn't, he tried to stay in the shadows. Don't be seen. Don't be noticed.
“Now,” he said, “I got cameras in my face all the time.”
“I don't even like doing selfies.”
But the cameras — and the attention — are something that he's had to accept. The CBS affiliate in Tulsa sent a crew to interview Jacobs the other day. ESPN asked to dispatch a few cameras to the house. Everyone wants to talk to Jacobs about his son Josh.
No player in college football has a more unlikely story than the Alabama running back.
"Man," Marty marveled, "this has been a ride."
To tell Josh's story, you have to tell Marty's.
A native of Tulsa, Marty married in 1995 and left behind people who shouldn't have been hung with and things that oughtn't have been done. He changed course. And when he and his wife divorced in 2006, he fought for and was granted custody of their five children.
After an accident at work left Marty without a job, he found himself with no place to live. Money was always tight, but no job and five kids? That was a different kind of restrictive.
For several months, Marty and the kids lived mostly in hotels. He would look for ones with free breakfasts so the kids could eat before school.
There were even a few times when Marty and the kids had to sleep in his truck.
But even in those dark days, Marty wasn't about to go back to the ways of his youth. He knew it could take him down a path that led to incarceration.
“I had to do everything right because at the end of the day, I can't raise my kids behind glass,” he said. “I'll be danged if they're going to end up in the system.”
Marty didn't always have all the answers for how to raise his kids, but he had a philosophy — give them as normal a life as possible. Eating breakfast together in the morning. Going to practice together after school. Doing homework together at night.
“The only difference in our life was that we were staying in hotels or sleeping somewhere else,” Marty said. “Everything else, I tried to stay the same.”
He hoped and prayed — and prayed hard — the routine would allow the kids to see beyond their immediate situation. Yes, they didn't have an apartment or a house like their friends, but most of their life was like everyone else.
Football was a big part of that.
Marty encouraged the kids to use the sport to channel their emotions. Angry about something? Confused? Frustrated?
Let it out on the field.
“You can hit anybody you want as hard as you want,” he told them.
Josh took that to heart. Even now with the Crimson Tide, that aggression remains. Watch him size up a defender and slam right into — and through — him, and you'll see how he runs angry.
But even though he runs mad, it's hard to imagine things being any better than they are now. Josh has gone from an unknown recruit at Tulsa McLain High School who had no Power Five scholarship offers a month before Signing Day to the top touchdown maker at Alabama. He has scored a team-high 13 touchdowns this season, 11 rushing and two receiving.
He added two touchdowns in the SEC Championship Game, carrying the load early and keeping the Crimson Tide in the game when quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was struggling mightily.
Jacobs earned game MVP honors for his performance.
Marty watched from the stands at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and for the first time in a long time, he cried. His tears weren't just because Josh was living his dream.
“It's that God backed me up in what I used to promise my kids when they were little,” Marty said. “I said, ‘If you do everything right, God will put you on a platform and put you out there. He will bless you.'
“And He did.”
The unlikely journey of the Jacobs family is now drawing attention, and even though Marty jokes about all the cameras, he knows their story is powerful.
He hopes it might inspire others.
“If we were betting on this, you'd have bet against him,” Marty said of Josh. “It's amazing how this is orchestrated.
“It still wows me.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.
Oklahoma vs. Alabama
•When: 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 29
•Where: Hard Rock Stadium; Miami Gardens, Fla.
•TV: ESPN (Cox 29)
HOW DID OU, OSU MISS ON JOSH JACOBS?
Josh Jacobs is a great running back who grew up in Tulsa.
So, why is he playing at Alabama, not Oklahoma or Oklahoma State?
Truth is, Jacobs nearly went unrecruited by every major-college program. A month before Signing Day in February 2016, Wyoming and New Mexico State were his best offers.
Then a social media campaign by Jacobs circulated his highlights and caught the attention of recruiters. Iowa. Arkansas. Iowa State. OU and OSU soon followed, beating a path to Tulsa McLain High School.
Jacobs ultimately chose Alabama over OU and Missouri on Signing Day.
Still, why wasn’t a guy now projected as an NFL-caliber back not recruited more heavily?
“He’s kind of the classic guy who took off his senior year,” Sooner coach Lincoln Riley said. “His tape early in his career, there wasn’t a ton of it. It was good, but it wasn’t elite.
“It’s gotten to where (recruiting starts) so early now that guys who don’t have a pretty good sophomore year or an elite junior year, you can get caught behind. Especially at a position like running back for us, where we’re able to attract some of the top guys from across the country.”
Hard to argue that the Sooners haven’t gotten some top running backs in recent years.
“Looking back on it now, do I wish we would’ve found him sooner?” Riley said of Jacobs. “Absolutely. No doubt. I told him that at the time. We’re not perfect. We just try to do the best we can.
“We don’t let too many good ones get out of Oklahoma. Always hate it when we do, but he’s a nice kid, nice family. I’m happy for the success he’s had.”