After fits and starts, Bo Scarbrough becomes a star

— -- So this was the Heisman Trophy candidate we'd heard whispers of.

This was the next Derrick Henry, the next Mark Ingram.

This was next great Alabama running back to lead Nick Saban and the top-ranked Crimson Tide to another national title.

Who cares if he arrived a few months late? And what did it matter that he waited to hold his coming-out party during the final college football game in the Georgia Dome? Bo Scarbrough would close down the old place in style, on New Year's Eve of all days, introducing himself to a national audience just in time for the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T (Monday, 8 ET, ESPN).

Even Henry spent part of the game pleading with Alabama to feed his successor.

It took a little time, but eventually Lane Kiffin listened to his former Heisman winner, and Scarbrough delivered.

On second-and-9, with Alabama ahead of Washington by 10 points in the fourth quarter, Scarbrough took the handoff out of the pistol formation, veered to his left and seemed stuck at the line of scrimmage. Defensive tackle Greg Gaines -- all 318 pounds of him -- grabbed Scarbrough around the shoulders and pulled. But Scarbrough shrugged him off, bounced off another defender, slipped and steadied himself just before falling to the turf. Then he was off to the races, sprinting 68 yards down the sideline for the touchdown that put the Huskies away for good.

Big No. 9 was borderline unstoppable last Saturday, rushing for an Alabama bowl-record 180 yards and two scores. Washington's defense was helpless against the 6-foot-2, 230-pound redshirt sophomore, allowing 120 of his rushing yards after contact.

It was an even more impressive follow-up to the 91 yards and two touchdowns he had a month earlier against Florida in the SEC championship game in Atlanta.

And afterward, when Scarbrough was named the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Offensive Player of the Game, anyone wearing crimson would tell you they saw all of this coming.

Linebacker Ryan Anderson called him a "monster" during scrimmages.

Tight end O.J. Howard told reporters he'd seen those cutback and "juke moves" plenty of times in practice.

"It might be surprising to y'all," said left tackle Cam Robinson, "but we know what Bo can do."

Now the rest of the college football world does, too.

Clemson's defense gave up 158 yards and three touchdowns to Henry when Alabama won last year's national championship. Now it has another star running back to account for during Monday's rematch in Tampa, Florida.

The question wasn't for Saban, but he wanted to say something nonetheless.

"I'd like to make a comment about that," Saban said when a reporter asked Scarbrough whether he thought this day would ever come, "because Bo has always been a really hard worker, and he's had some obstacles to overcome, mostly little injury-type things that have plagued him a little bit.

"But never once did he put his head down. Never once did he get frustrated or discouraged. Just kept working. Every time you call on him, he's ready to roll."

This moment, you could tell, was special for everyone involved, including Saban.

Because while some of those injuries were small, others were not. And many wondered whether the wide-eyed kid from just up the road in Northport, Alabama, would ever fulfill his five-star potential.

Going back to high school, Scarbrough had one season end with a torn ACL and another end on a broken ankle. Then, when he got to Alabama, he missed a season recovering from another knee surgery.

There were some bumps and bruises as a redshirt freshman, but he flashed some potential. On 18 carries, he had 104 yards and a touchdown, opening the eyes of those close to the program.

But durability was a lingering concern. He was thought of as a more explosive version of Henry, but Henry was a tank that never seemed to wear down or need time in the shop.

What's more, Scarbrough didn't have the finer points of the position mastered. He struggled in pass protection and seemed to need more time with the playbook. Damien Harris, a true sophomore, won the starting job coming out of fall camp and Scarbrough took a back seat.

During the first six games of this season, Scarbrough failed to break the 60-yard mark rushing and had double-digit carries just once. And when he did seem to have a breakout game, rushing for 109 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee, it was followed up with an eight-carry, 33-yard performance against Texas A&M. A week later, he mustered 52 yards at LSU before an injury sidelined him for the next two weeks.

But maybe that was the last straw.

Maybe that two-week stint on the shelf was the final bit of rest and the final spark he needed.

Scarbrough came back for the Iron Bowl and rushed for 90 yards against Auburn. Then came the SEC championship and the Peach Bowl.

He had five touchdowns and averaged 61 yards per game during the first nine games of the season. During his last three games, though, he scored four touchdowns and averaged 120.3 yards per game on the ground.

Now, when you look at Scarbrough you don't see what could be. You see an explosive, powerful back with the fifth-highest yards after first contact average in the Power 5, and a top-10 back in terms of touchdowns and first downs per rush. You see a future Heisman Trophy candidate.

So what are Clemson and the SEC in for if 2017 proves to finally be Scarbrough's year?

Ask his former coach at Northridge High School, Mike Smith, and he'll tell you Scarbrough is a physical "freak."

As early as the eighth grade, Smith was in awe of his blend of size and speed.

"He's always been tall," he said. "He's always been lean and long and muscular. I mean everything -- his hands, his arms, his legs -- he's got a lot of weight. So he plays bigger than he really is because he has such length."

Smith started him out at receiver as a freshman and used him some on defense at safety before going all-in on playing running back.

The goal was to build him up slowly, teaching him concepts, then getting him in the weight room before showing him how to use his size on the football field.

"He could look in the mirror and grow muscle," Smith said. "He's the darnedest thing you've ever seen."

He would develop a stiff-arm that Smith said "could break people's necks."

"I don't think Bo ever got an idea how talented he was," Smith said. "I don't think the great ones ever do. They all know they're good. But in 30 years of coaching, I've never seen a kid that's as physically blessed."

Scarbrough had his pick of schools, but decided to stay home and close to his mother at Alabama. Besides, his straight-ahead, one-cut style would work well in Saban's power running scheme.

Former Alabama offensive coordinator Kiffin, whose arrival at Alabama coincided with that of Scarbrough, said of the former five-star prospect, "They don't make guys that big and that fast."

Saban described him as the complete package -- big and fast, with good pad level, good vision, the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield as well as block.

As he put it: "He can do all the things that any good running back can do."

Staying healthy was the only real concern.

Senior linebacker Reuben Foster, whose friendship with Scarbrough dates to their days as recruits, said it was a struggle for him early on to not run timidly in an effort to protect himself.

"But he's a monster, he's a beast, he's a savage," Foster said. "So we knew he was going to run the ball."

Against Washington, we finally saw the complete package.

Howard said he could watch near the end of the game and see that the defense "didn't really want to tackle him."

"They just got worn down and he was slipping off of them," he said. "He's a big guy and he's powerful and so fast. It's kind of hard to bring him down."

Said quarterback Jalen Hurts: "It was just time. There comes a time in the season when it's your time to shine, and he shined bright like a diamond tonight."

Scarbrough deflected the attention away from himself, however, crediting his offensive line and the game plan.

He had to be mentally strong dealing with injuries and waiting his turn, he said, but it was worth it.

"It's just trust in the process," he said, "and believing in your teammates and believing in yourself that you can get the job done if the coach can trust you."

With everything on the line next week against Clemson, it's a safe bet that Saban will trust Scarbrough to lead the charge yet again.

He has climbed out of the shadows. Now it's time to be the star everyone thought he could be.