NEW ORLEANS -- April Justin places great importance on the pinkie swear.
Justin made her son, Alabama safety Landon Collins, guarantee that he would do whatever it took to become an impact player when he picked Alabama over her preferred college, LSU, in 2012.
Justin said this week that she might require her son to make a similar promise if she is to approve his entering the NFL draft after an All-American junior season.
“We’re going to review it,” Justin said. “I think he’s going to make the jump, but we’re going to review it because my biggest thing is walking out of there with a degree. So we’re going to see how it all goes.
“He has all the way up to August of next year. So I need him to do another pinkie swear with me to make sure that I get that degree because he would be the first one [in my family] to complete college at a high-level college.”
Although Collins' impending decision will generate national attention -- ESPN Scouts Inc. lists him as the No. 10 overall NFL prospect for 2015 should he enter the draft -- there is no way it will make waves the way his last pinkie swear did with his mom.
Justin became perhaps the most famous mom in college football overnight when she emotionally disagreed with Collins’ decision to commit to Alabama during an in-game ceremony at the Under Armour All-America High School Football Game, televised live on ESPN.
She had already been separated from her son once before, after Hurricane Katrina ravaged their hometown of New Orleans, and she desperately wanted her oldest son to play closer to home. Particularly because she believed that her younger son -- defensive tackle Gerald Willis, who is now at Florida -- would join Collins as a teammate at LSU.
“It would have happened. If I would have went to LSU, Gerald was coming with me,” Collins admitted.
Instead, Collins picked Alabama and held firm to his commitment, even if his mom and numerous angry LSU fans were very much against his decision to leave his home state.
He talked her into seeing things his way with that pinkie swear.
“We pinkie-sweared and I took a deep breath and walked down the stairs and signed his life away to Alabama, even though I hated it,” Justin said. “But we pinkie-sweared, and one thing about Landon is he keeps his promises, and he promised me that this is what he was going to do, and actually he stuck to it. So I’m proud of that, even though it’s not at LSU. But that’s the only reason why, because I wasn’t signing the papers. I should have just ran with them.”
It has been almost exactly three years since Collins made his decision, and Justin maintains that he would have played just as well -- and maybe played earlier -- had he chosen Les Miles’ Tigers. But Collins believes his mom has come around, at least somewhat, on his decision since he has become a success with the Crimson Tide.
“I told her at the end of the day, I’m going to do what I said I was going to do and I always kept that promise,” Collins said. “I said, ‘I’m going to pinkie-promise you, I’m going to do what I need to do, so you don’t have worries. You don’t have to worry about me being on the sideline for three years. I’m going to be on the field doing my thing.’
“And that’s what she said: ‘If you pinkie-promise, then I’m going to be all right with it.’ And ever since then, she’s been all right with it and having a fantastic time, enjoying me playing and supporting me.”
In fact, Justin called herself the No. 1 fan for both of her sons, adding that she would probably take a loss harder than her son should the Crimson Tide lose in Thursday's College Football Playoff semifinal against Ohio State. After all, she has been the intermediary between numerous friends and family members in search of tickets and her son, who might be playing his final college game in his home state on Thursday.
“I said, ‘Lord, with all these requests, I wish that he was playing at the Rose Bowl.' Then I know I wouldn’t have all these requests,” Justin joked. “Then it would just be me and just be his immediate family like it’s been, but since we’re at home, everybody wants to see if they can get a ticket.”
Collins said Tuesday that he has come up with 22 tickets for those well-wishers, which is an impressive number even if it probably didn’t come close to satisfying the demand. Such is the case for players when they return for a big game close to home -- even those who have been vilified by many for leaving the state in order to play for the rival Crimson Tide.
Some of those fans might come around if Collins does enter the draft and he goes to the New Orleans Saints, who might be the only team more beloved than LSU in the Pelican State. But even then, Collins isn’t so sure.
“I got a couple tweets talking about, ‘Don’t come back to New Orleans.’ So that’s all up to the Saints, baby,” Collins chuckled.
But that outcome would be just fine with Mom once the season finally ends, and this time they come to an agreement about his next step.
“If he does declare, then I’ll be a busy bee running around, managing Mr. Collins. It will be all new,” Justin said. “I can’t wait, but we’ll see. We’ll definitely see. I hope we get to Dallas [for the CFP championship game]. That’s our main focus, not worrying about [the NFL] right now. We’ll worry about getting to the next game.”