Jackson Bratton, who was fresh off two years in the University of Alabama football program, didn't know what to expect when he arrived at UAB.
"I'm not going to say I'm surprised because I knew there was talent here," Bratton said. "I just didn't know it was going to be this deep at linebackers. We've got five dudes that can play right now, like, for sure, with the first team defense. That says a lot when you've got five linebackers that can all start inside or play at any moment. That's huge. It's going to take four dudes to go down for us to be in trouble. It's a great feeling. It's an awesome way to go about the season."
For the record, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Bratton is one of those dudes.
He joins a group of potential starters that is led by three-year starter Noah Wilder and includes returning part-time starter Tyler Taylor, former All-Sun Belt linebacker Reynard Ellis and junior college transfer Reise Collier.
Put it all together, and you have a fluid depth chart at that position.
"That motivates me," Bratton said. "Every time I do have a bad day out here, it makes me very mad and motivates [me] to be better the next day. You got to make the next play. [Defensive coordinator David Reeves] is going to play whoever is consistent and works his butt off every day and just give everything they got."
Bratton is not the first player in this group of linebackers to arrive at UAB. However, chances are pretty good that the Muscle Shoals High graduate was the first one offered a scholarship.
"I found out when I got here, Coach Reeves told me he offered me in the 8th grade, and the head coach didn't even tell me," Bratton said. "I thought that was funny. Honestly, I didn't hear from them in high school."
His first offer – at least the first one he knew about – came during his sophomore season at Muscle Shoals.
"Bama was my first one," Bratton said. "That was my dream school at the time. I went ahead and committed there as a sophomore."
He finished out a stellar high school career before heading to Tuscaloosa. He had over 100 tackles in each of his final three seasons, including 155 tackles as a junior. He was the No. 5 recruit in his class from Alabama in the 247 composite rankings, and ESPN.com slotted him as the No. 3 inside linebacker recruit in the country.
He didn't see any game action in his two years in Tuscaloosa but was part of a team that won the national championship in 2020 and made the national championship game last season. He received plenty of recruiting attention after leaving Alabama.
"Obviously, I learned a lot under Coach [Nick] Saban," Bratton said. "I have respect for every single one of those coaches over there. They taught me more than I ever thought [I'd] learn about football. I really enjoyed my two years there."
Florida State recruited Bratton heavily after he entered the portal. Virginia Tech got in the mix for a bit, and UCF was interested. He had an option to join former high school teammate Logan Smothers, a quarterback, at Nebraska.
UAB was the best fit.
"They are an hour and a half from Muscle Shoals. They're a great program," Bratton said. "NFL scouts fly into Birmingham airport and stop by UAB. We have a great team here. I feel like we do. I'm glad I came here."
Bratton made an impact in the spring and carried that into fall camp. He also quickly became a part of the UAB family.
"This team right here, I never realized a college football team could be so close," Bratton said. "There is just a different atmosphere here. I learned a lot from my new teammates. They've taught me a lot, how to be one, how to come together. They were all very close, and they took me in with open arms. All the linebackers, Coach Reeves, [former head coach Bill Clark], they all welcomed me. I was very blessed to come in at the time I did."
It didn't take long for Bratton to become comfortable as one of the defensive leaders.
"I do have some leadership in me," said Bratton. "I'm a new guy, and I'm not ever one to have a loud mouth. I try to lead by actions, just doing the right thing. I feel like I can bring my knowledge to the game to help others out."
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