59 Days Away from Bama Kickoff: Sylvester Croom, Jr.
Each day counting down to Alabama's Week 1 matchup with Utah State, I will highlight one former player whose jersey number coincides with the amount of days until the game. Kickoff is only 59 days away, so let's look at the career of a pioneer of football, Sylvester Croom, Jr.
Sylvester Croom, Jr. grew up in Tuscaloosa, AL during a dark period of American history. Born in 1954, Croom fought racism and bigotry throughout his life from the time he was a child. Despite what may have stood in his path, the former Crimson Tide great persevered and opened many doors for future players and coaches like himself by breaking down senseless boundaries that had been the norm for far too long.
As one of the first African-American students at Tuscaloosa High School in the late 1960's, Croom played both linebacker and tight end, and dreamed of suiting up in Crimson for his hometown school.
Croom's dreams came true in 1971 when he joined the team as a freshman, just a year removed from coach Paul Bryant's integration of the program.
Despite protest from many fans and even some of his teammates at the notion of black players suiting up for the Tide, Croom shut the noise out and proved he belonged on the gridiron. He played for the Tide's 1971 and 1972 SEC Championship teams, and finally got the chance to start as a junior, taking over as the center.
In his final two years with the team, Alabama won not only two more SEC titles, but a National Championship as well in 1973. Croom was named a team captain his senior season and selected as an All-American for his play.
The New Orleans Saints brought Croom in as an undrafted player in 1975, but he was cut following his first game. After the short stint in the NFL, the Tuscaloosa native returned home to continue his education and join Bryant's staff as an assistant.
Croom spent ten seasons with the team, coaching various position groups, before making the leap the NFL as the running backs coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After 17 years of coaching in the NFL, spending time mostly with the running back position, Croom became the first ever African-American head coach to lead an SEC program, taking over at Mississippi State in 2004.
In five seasons, Croom compiled just a 21-38 record, but was named SEC Coach of the Year in 2007 after posting an 8-5 record and winning the Liberty Bowl with the Bulldogs.
The Alabama legend's tenure with Mississippi State came to an end in 2008 when he resigned and moved back to coach in the NFL. Croom spent eight more seasons in the league before ultimately retiring in 2018.
Now, Croom resides in Mobile, AL and serves as the Senior Vice President of Operations for the Senior Bowl, a role which he took on shortly after his retirement from coaching.