Alabama football’s top returning pass-catcher from the 2021 SEC Championship team lined up for the first time this season against Texas on Saturday, September 10. The Crimson Tide’s fifth-year tight end Cameron Latu, who missed the season opener vs. Utah State on September 3 due to a knee injury, made his 2022 debut in a shockingly razor-tight non-conference clash in Austin.
Latu only had 4 receptions for 28 yards for the game, but he had 2 critical catches on the final drive to set up the game-winning kick from Will Reichard to set up the 20-19 final score with 10 seconds left. Texas-Alabama was not only the most-watched game of the 2022 season thus far, but also the first matchup of a home-and-home between the two programs. The return game in Tuscaloosa is set to take place in September 2023.
Defending Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young had an uncharacteristically slow start to the first half against Texas – missing reads and being constantly consumed by a Texas pass-rush that pushed around the Crimson Tide offensive line.
The two teams were deadlocked at 10 at the half despite Alabama being three-score favorites, but Young’s top returning target from a season ago helped avoid a catastrophic Week 2 loss to a Longhorns team missing Quinn Ewers for the final three quarters. Ewers had suffered an early shoulder injury at the hands of Alabama EDGE rusher Dallas Turner, opening up the door to a Tide comeback fueled by a late fourth-quarter gem of a drive from Latu.
In 2021, Latu set the single-season touchdown record for Alabama tight ends in 2021, hauling in 8 end zone targets to surpass Irv Smith Jr.’s 7 scores in 2018. Latu’s 8 touchdowns tied 2022 NFL draft second-rounder John Metchie and was behind only Jameson Williams’ 15 TDs in 2021. His return comes at a perfect time with two more tune-ups against Louisiana-Monroe and Vanderbilt left before facing No. 10 Arkansas the first week of October.
Prior the game, Alabama football head coach Nick Saban had been bullish when asked to describe Latu’s recent performance in practice. “He’s doing well, 100%. Runs well, moves well,” Saban said during a September 7 press conference.
“He practiced quite a bit, thought he needed another week to practice. This will be his first game, so it’ll be a little different for him and some of the other guys who got to play last week, but from a health standpoint, we think he’s ready to go.”
Latu looked healthy enough in his return to give hope he could put up similarly sizable numbers in 2022 to his record-setting 2021 season.
Latu Converted From the DL to Tight End
Latu was recruited out of Olympus High as the No. 7 weak-side defensive end in the class of 2018. After struggling to find the field in his first three years with the program, even after switching to the offensive side of the ball following his redshirt freshman season, Latu broke out during his fourth year with the Tide with a 2-touchdown performance in the team’s 2021 opener against Miami.
Latu scored several times last season in big games. In addition to his Week 1 touchdowns against the Hurricanes, the 6-foot-5 TE had timely TDs against Ole Miss in former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s first trip back to Tuscaloosa as an SEC head coach, as well as against Cincinnati and Georgia in the College Football Playoff.
Latu’s Olympus teammate Ben Bywater, a linebacker at BYU, always saw this success coming. Speaking of the Alabama TD record-holder following his game-sealing fourth-quarter touchdown against Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl, Bywater said that Latu has put the work in to be rewarded on this stage.
“The thing about Cam is he’s matured and grown so much just from what I’ve seen,” Bywater told the Deseret News in January 2022. “Back when we were in high school to who he is now, he’s just rock solid, works hards, understands the process, understands what Nick Saban is trying to do. He deserves everything that’s coming his way, he’s gone through a lot of adversity in his life that people don’t know about it. For him to be on this stage, I could not be happier for him.”
Latu Will be Active for Alabama vs. ULM
Latu will be active against Louisiana-Monroe this Saturday after going through another week of practice without reaggravating his knee injury. The Crimson Tide will be 49-point favorites against a program that actually upset Alabama football way back during Nick Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa. ULM is the only Group of Five loss during Saban’s Alabama tenure, though in 2015 the Tide demolished the Warhawks 34-0 to even the all-time series.
While Louisiana-Monroe should be a cakewalk for Saban and co., it’s important for Latu to get his reps with Bryce Young as the two reacclimate following the former’s Week 1 absence. Latu explained at a September 13 press conference the importance of the pair’s chemistry.
“(Bryce Young and I) have a very good connection and relationship. We’re going to keep connecting, building the relationship,” including time after practice together, he said. “Trying to catch up on the time we missed. We’re going to get back to where it was.”
While the targets to Latu were low in Week 2, that had more to do with Texas’ pass-rush frequently getting the better of the Alabama offensive line than it had to do with a lack of chemistry between the Tide’s tight end and quarterback. In Week 3, it’s possible we see Latu begin his quest to break his own touchdown record from a season ago.