The first two songs Claire Roby learned as a child were “Jesus Loves Me” and “Yea, Alabama,” and not in that order.
Claire grew up the daughter of Crimson Tide football legend Billy Neighbors, but married Auburn graduate Bubba Robby. Since she didn’t want Auburn stuff hanging in her house, to be fair, she didn’t decorate herself with Alabama stuff either. But when her oldest son, Jackson, gravitated toward a football helmet at Alabama as a toddler, she didn’t complain.
More than a decade later, Jackson is preparing for his final game at Bryant-Denny Stadium as an Alabama football player with the Iron Bowl against Auburn this Saturday. He continued the legacy of champions while forging his own path with the Crimson Tide as an offensive lineman over the past five years.
“It takes a very rare breed to walk on,” Claire said. “He loves Alabama. He’s loved it his whole life. That’s all he’s ever wanted to do.”
A family of champions
Few families encapsulate “Built by Bama” better than Neighbors. Billy, the patriarch, captained the 1961 Alabama team and helped lead the Crimson Tide to Bear Bryant’s first Alabama national championship.
“My dad was in the room when Coach Bryant said, ‘If you do what we say, we’ll be national champions in four years,'” Claire said. “And my dad was the captain of that team.
Billy played both ways for the Crimson Tide and was a unanimous All-American that season. He played eight seasons in the NFL and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
Claire’s two brothers, Wes and Keith Neighbors, played for Alabama. Wes was an all-SEC center in 1986, while Mike Shula was a quarterback and Keith was part of the 1992 national championship team under Gene Stallings.
Wes’ two sons, Wesley and Connor, also played college football. Wesley was a safety at Alabama from 2008-2011, winning two national championships, and then was part of Alabama’s coaching staff as a graduate assistant or defensive analyst from 2011-2017, winning three more national championships. He now serves as the safeties coach at Maryland under former Alabama assistant Mike Locksley.
Connor deviated slightly from family tradition and played at LSU from 2010-2014. However, he also spent time at Alabama as a strength and conditioning coach with football and baseball. He is now the director of strength and conditioning for Louisiana football.
Jackson moved on to Alabama in 2018 and has spent the past five seasons with the Crimson Tide. He was part of the 2020 National Championship team and was joined on the 2022 team by his cousin Hayden Neighbors.
Between playing and coaching, members of the Neighbors family have been part of eight national championship teams for the Crimson Tide (1961, 1992, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2020) and numerous other SEC championships.
Billy passed away in 2012, but his wife, Susan, is still alive and attends many Alabama football games to support her grandchildren. Claire said her father would be delighted by all his family had achieved and the way his legacy lives on.
“He didn’t like the pressure his name put on his grandchildren, but he’d be damn proud of them,” Claire said. “No doubt about it.”
A dream come true
Jackson graduated in May with a degree in marketing. Many of his friends at Alabama had graduated or transferred, but he still had something he wanted to accomplish at Alabama and decided to return for a fifth year.
“Jackson came back last year because his dream was to get on the field,” Claire said. “That was his goal. That was his whole dream to get on the field.”
At the start of this season, that dream finally became a reality.
With just over two minutes remaining in Alabama’s 63-7 victory over Louisiana-Monroe, cheers erupted from the Crimson Tide sideline as one player ran onto the field to join the offensive line at right guard.
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Jackson’s frame doesn’t quite fit the typical Alabama lineman, and his appearance came in an inconsequential part of the game. However, he was the biggest player in Bryant-Denny Stadium for three snaps.
“When he had a moment and watched his teammates react,” Claire said. “We were very proud and excited for him.
The Roby family had a bird’s-eye view from a friend’s suite in the end zone, and their phones immediately began blowing up with support and excitement from friends and family. That excitement was equally evident in his teammates, which made the moment even more special for his sister, Willa.
“It all kind of happened at once,” Willa said. “It was a rush. But I remember the funnest thing was watching his teammates get really excited.”
After the game, Jackson’s phone was flooded with messages from former teammates, including current New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones. Of course, the reception shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who understand the role he’s played in the Crimson Tide locker room in recent years.
“He’s a glue guy,” Bubba said. “His teammates see him out there every day and his contributions. And they all understand and understand that things have changed a little bit with the transfer portal and the NIL and everything and the redshirt rule, it’s really hard for guys like him to see the field at all.” now. It’s much harder than five, six years ago. They see him there in practice every day, and it means a lot to them to see him rewarded.”
Special recognition for senior day
Roby will be one of 17 players recognized at Senior Day before the Iron Bowl this Saturday. Earlier this week, Nick Saban talked about the importance of the ceremony, saying it’s an opportunity to recognize the sacrifices and investments the players have made in the program.
“Some of them get a lot of positive accolades because they play and they get a lot of positive self-satisfaction for a positive performance, but there are a lot of them who are a bit of unsung heroes, they work hard every week. and they play their games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to help others prepare for the game and not get as much credit,” Saban said. “So it’s a great opportunity for those people to get some positive self-satisfaction for all their efforts.”
Alabama starting defensive lineman DJ Dale will be one of the most recognizable seniors at the ceremony. But he quickly realizes how important walk-ons like Roby are to the program.
“At the end of the day, they’re the ones who get us ready to play, and we’re not going to play well without them,” Dale said. “They give us great looks. And they don’t get any credit. We respect them around here. We’ve got guys who’ve been doing it for years. So we really respect them and love them. They’re brothers as much as anybody.”
About 20 minutes before kickoff between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers, seniors line up with their family members and take pictures with Saban. The fact that the ceremony will take place before the Iron Bowl makes the moment a little sweeter for Jackson, who grew up in the state and graduated from Hunstville High School.
There will still be at least one more game in a Crimson Tide uniform with whatever bowl game Alabama ends up in, but it will be a special moment to encapsulate a career for the Crimson Tide that has included three SEC championships, a national title, the 2019 Bryant Non-Scholarship Player Award and an appearance at 2019 SEC Academic Honor roll.
“Jackson Roby wouldn’t change one thing,” Claire said. “I know. He’ll tell you. He wouldn’t change one thing, just the relationships he’s made… He’s not about me. He’s about the team, and that’s just who he is. And he loves it. He loves it.” Alabama.”
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