Jerry Jeudy, the latest star in Alabama's South Florida WR pipeline

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Jerry Jeudy attempted to distance himself from the comparison. Having his name mentioned alongside those of Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley, two all-time great Alabama receivers, clearly made him uncomfortable. He squirmed a little as he tried to find the right words to say. He had played well as a freshman, of course, but he couldn't claim to deserve that type of lofty standing.

No, he'd have to earn that, he explained as he stood on the field inside Bryant-Denny Stadium this past summer.

"It's not going to just be given to you," he said matter-of-factly.

But the sophomore from South Florida would take it without hesitation, as it turns out. A few weeks after his comments, back in his home state for the season opener against Louisville, Jeudy caught a pair of touchdown passes. A couple of months after that, after he'd become the first Crimson Tide receiver to win the Biletnikoff Award since Cooper did it in 2014, he racked up 73 yards and a touchdown against Oklahoma in the Capital One Orange Bowl, which was played less than a half-hour's drive from Deerfield Beach, where he grew up.

Like Ridley and Cooper before him, Jeudy has established himself as a linchpin of the Crimson Tide offense, catching 63 passes for 1,176 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. He was perhaps the best big-play target in the country this season with 18.7 yards per catch -- a rate higher than anyone in the FBS with at least 61 receptions.

If you're a casual fan of the sport, it would be easy to get the three receivers confused when Alabama plays Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game Presented by AT&T on Monday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Santa Clara, California. In a helmet and shoulder pads, everything about them -- from their hometowns to their style of play to their star status -- is eerily similar.

They're all about 6 feet tall, give or take an inch or two. They're all on the thin side. And they're all men of relatively few words.

But their play does the talking. They're all fast. They're all elusive. And they all run routes at an undeniably professional level.

Give Jeudy another year and another 1,000 yards before he becomes draft-eligible. Then he'll make the next stop on the South Florida-Alabama pipeline: the NFL.

The first time the three receivers might have met was at a summer camp at Alabama in 2014. Cooper was entering his junior season and Ridley was being hosted as a top target in the 2015 recruiting class. Jeudy, meanwhile, was along for the ride -- literally. The high school freshman was used to sitting on the floorboard of a bus that took Ridley and other South Florida prospects on recruiting visits like the one to Tuscaloosa.

Mario Cristobal can remember it clearly even now. Back then, Oregon's head coach was still an Alabama assistant in charge of the offensive line. He was also in charge of recruiting South Florida. He was already all-in on Ridley when he noticed Jeudy. Jeudy was only about 150 pounds at the time -- "verrry skinny," Cristobal recalled -- but he could fly. According to Cristobal, he clocked a 4.3-second 40-yard dash at the summer camp, which raised more than a few eyebrows.

Could the Crimson Tide be so lucky? Would another South Florida receiver fall into their lap?

Cristobal, 48, was born and raised in Miami. When the bell would signal the end of class at Christopher Columbus High School in the mid-to-late 1980s, he would rush over to see the Hurricanes practice. It was the heyday of The U -- "when Miami was, like, legit," Cristobal said -- and he'd watch guys like Michael Irvin and Jerome Brown in awe. To this day, the thought of Bennie Blades and others going one-on-one is burned into Cristobal's memory.

"These guys would absolutely try to annihilate one another during practice and then post-practice," he said. "I became addicted to that. ... And that's what I saw in Jerry and Calvin. These guys were doing it and being trained like that."

Cristobal knows he's biased, but he can't help but think there's something about the soil upon which he was raised.

Coaches often talk about the different recruiting regions in the country. Broadly speaking, there's the South, East Coast, Midwest and West Coast. But there are a few select regions that continually stand out as unique. Texas is obviously one because of its sheer size and depth of prospects. New Orleans is another. But South Florida, coaches acknowledge, is a gold mine for talent, with a tradition and a history all its own.

You can zero in on the receiver position and find more than Jeudy and Ridley and Cooper. Marquise "Hollywood" Brown starred at Oklahoma. His cousin, Antonio Brown, is with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The list is so long that it defies logic: How can you have that many stars in that small of an area?

"All of them grow up on football there," Cristobal explained. "It's a key and it's a vehicle to a better life. The passion for football, especially when they're really young in the youth leagues, is off the charts. The hunger, drive and determination behind it is unmatched. And the guys they've seen go on and have tremendous success have been tremendous examples. Those guys want to be like those guys. It's a really special place in this country."

Alabama just happens to have drawn the same type of player from the same small set of square miles in the exact right order. The layering -- from Cooper to Ridley to Jeudy, without any breaks in between -- couldn't have worked out any better for Nick Saban and his coaching staff.

They all had the right DNA, Cristobal said, to go along with the right mental makeup. Both Cooper and Ridley were first-round picks who made seamless transitions to the NFL.

"Tremendous polish," Cristobal said. "But those guys are like -- what's the best word to describe them? -- they're borderline OCD in terms of how they are always ingrained in their craft. They're always watching football, they're always studying football, they're watching NFL clips and pulling it off social media. They absolutely love the grind and no one can tell them any different. Calvin has already done it, and honestly Amari was a great example for Calvin. Then Calvin Ridley serves as a great example for Jerry Jeudy."

Cristobal later added: "You see the results. It's worked out perfectly."

Jeudy, for his part, doesn't have an explanation for how he and Ridley and Cooper could come out of the same part of the country around the same time.

"I don't know," he said this past summer. "It's just something different when you come up here, especially for receivers."

The truth is that Jeudy is probably too close to the situation to see why he was always destined to be next in line. There was the 2014 recruiting camp, of course, but there was more, too.

Jeudy would watch highlights of Cooper and dream of one day doing the same thing. The image of someone from where he lived excelling at a place like Alabama made an impression on Jeudy. It made him believe, he said, "I could come and do the same thing."

Also, Ridley's and Jeudy's lives intersected, and they became close friends. First, when Jeudy was a freshman and saw Ridley at a 7-on-7 tournament, he was awestruck. He thought to himself, "Oh my God." And then, he said, "I tried to turn my game up and try to play similar to him."

The two became teammates at Deerfield Beach High and spent countless hours together. They'd work out and practice and hang out almost every day at teammate Shawn Burgess-Becker's home.

Ridley was Jeudy's coach -- and not in the figurative sense. When Ridley was ruled ineligible as a senior because of his age, he turned himself into a second receivers coach, according to Deerfield Beach offensive coordinator Calvin Davis. Rather than stay at home and sulk over his inability to see the field, Ridley poured himself into helping Jeudy and others.

So, yeah, their similar footwork -- the smoothness and the way they get out of breaks so quickly -- didn't happen by accident.

"He taught me a lot," Jeudy said. "I got most of my game off of him."

When Jeudy enrolled at Alabama and played alongside Ridley as a freshman, the comparison became all too obvious. Anthony Averett, who is now a cornerback with the Baltimore Ravens, once referred to Jeudy as Ridley's clone.

"Dude's crazy," Crimson Tide running back Josh Jacobs said. "You see him run, he looks exactly like Calvin. His route running looks identical, except I'd say he's probably a little more shifty."

That is where the subtle difference lies. Though Ridley and Cooper were both tacticians in terms of running routes, neither had quite the same caliber of juke moves as Jeudy.

Jeudy has made many a defender look downright silly this season. His ability to start and stop was on full display against LSU, for instance, when he pulled up on a dime and sent a defensive back flying off into the distance.

Those moves, as it turns out, were a result of his hometown as well. As kids, when they weren't playing in high school or youth leagues, Jeudy and his friends competed in what they call "backyard ball."

It doesn't really take place in a backyard, though. The way Jeudy describes it, the backyard is actually a narrow street where the angles are such that you have to rely on juke moves rather than pure speed to get past someone.

When Jeudy was younger, he'd play with Lamar Jackson -- before Jackson went on to Louisville, won the Heisman Trophy and started as a rookie quarterback in the NFL.

"He hit me with one of those moves before," Jeudy said. "Since then, I took it from him and added it to my game."

The move, or rather the array of moves, have become the one bit of flash that comes with Jeudy's otherwise understated personality. And even still he gets uncomfortable talking about it.

As a sophomore, he's still growing into his skin. When he took home the Biletnikoff Award last month, he kept repeating how it was a dream come true.

"It didn't come easy," he said. "You have to work for it."

He earned it, though. Just like he earned his place alongside Calvin Ridley and Amari Cooper and the rest of the greats to come from his hometown.