When Landon Collins made the biggest decision of his young life – choosing to attend Alabama over his home state LSU – on National Signing Day, his mother, April Justin, couldn't help but express her dissatisfaction sitting beside him on national television.
She had wanted her son to play for head coach Les Miles and represent Louisiana, the place he was born, the place where he experienced adversity, the place where grew into the passionate football player he would ultimately become. The benefit of hindsight proves Collins made a good choice – Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide molded him into an All-Pro safety – and prepared him to make another, more harmonious one some eight years later.
"I called my mom and told her the news," Collins said after he agreed to terms with the Redskins. "All you could here was screaming and shouting. She was all for it."
Take a look at photos from Landon Collins first day with The Washington Redskins.
The culmination of Collins officially signing with the Washington Redskins on Thursday came with the organization's usual pomp and circumstance. He flew in Wednesday night and met with Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who gifted him a game-worn, autographed jersey that belonged to Sean Taylor, Collins' football idol and the reason he'd been a fan of the Redskins long before he ever considered playing in Washington.
At the podium, his description of the owner's gesture – after Collins had toured the building, met with the coaching staff and then made everything official with a pen – shifted the mood of the entire auditorium, where he addressed Redskins media, staff and guests.
Before dinner began, he recalled, pausing a moment and holding back more tears, Snyder handed Collins a box, and told him to wait for his family to open it in front of them. Linebacker Ryan Anderson was also present at the table, his former Alabama teammate of three years, witnessing Collins' emotional break once he unpackaged the burgundy uniform.
"When he told me that it was a game-worn jersey signed by him in the box, instantly broke down, instantly, straight into tears," Collins said. "He handed the box over, he tried handing me the box, I couldn't take the box, I couldn't move, shaking, son on my lap, my son actually grabbed the box and started opening the box. You know kids are going to open presents no matter what, so he started opening the box, I'm still crying…it took me about 30-45 minutes to calm down, I couldn't even eat. I had the salad right there, I couldn't even eat the salad. It took me a minute but it's an honor and I really appreciate it Mr. Snyder, I really do."
That teary anecdote finished up a press conference that covered all the logistical details of his record-breaking deal and the life-altering effects of signing it.
"Honestly my dream was to come here," said Collins, who joked he had spoken to Dr. James Andrews a couple of times, asking him to whisper to Snyder his inclination to come to Washington. It certainly helped that the Redskins had a handful of Alabama players, former teammates of varying lengths in Tuscaloosa, and a defensive scheme he could immediately see himself thriving in.
Collins received other offers, and then his agent asked about Washington.
"He asked me how I feel about the Redskins and I said, 'You know how I feel about the Redskins, what you mean? I want to be there.' He hung up the phone and said, 'Alright bet. That's it.'"
When his agent called back, Collins was driving in Miami going to work out.
"I literally broke down," Collins sad. "I didn't pull the car over, I fought the urge because I still had to go get my shoes to go work out. From that point on I was just in shock and awe and humbly gracious for this opportunity."
In the couple of days that he's had to process his decision, Collins said he took a few hours in his hotel balcony by himself "just trying to take it all in."
The Redskins are trying, too. Under head coach Jay Gruden's tenure, 17 different safeties have started a game in the defensive backfield, a statistic that made Gruden raise his eyebrows following Collins' press conference.
"I was telling [Landon] this morning, I've gone through so many safeties," Gruden said. "It's finally nice to, and not to say anything bad about the other ones, have a quality one that you can count on to do different things – he can line up in the box, he can play middle linebacker for the Giants last year, he can play dime linebacker, he can play free safety, he can play in the hash, that's so critical. I think the safety position has been de-valued for something, but when you don't have one, you realize how important it is to get one."
Added Gruden: "I just know that whenever you put on the Giants defense film, you feel No. 21."
With his family members in attendance, Collins had made a decision everyone around him could be thrilled about. The three-time Pro Bowler shook hands with Redskins staff members after his press conference, his smiling mug blown up on the video screen behind him, marking the beginning of a new stage of his life and playing career.
"My biggest strength is going to be leadership. It's definitely leadership," Collins said when asked of what he would bring to Washington. "I lead by example and that's about it. We are going to have fun, I can tell you that much."