LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Surrounded by fellow national award finalists in the green room the night before the College Football Awards Show, Landon Collins took a moment to soak in the buzz, one his favorite player, former Miami Hurricanes star Sean Taylor, experienced in 2003.

With his mother, April Justin, nearby, Alabama’s first-team All-American cleared his thoughts to remember one of his on-field heroes, a player he tries to mimic as the centerpiece of the Crimson Tide’s secondary.

“Sean Taylor, that’s my guy,” Collins said in an exclusive interview with Saturday Down South. “That’s the guy I analyze my game after, kind of just project my game after him.”

Seven days before his ninth birthday as a pee wee football star in 2001, Collins watched Taylor, a true freshman who later developed into a unanimous All-American selection and defensive player of the year in the Big East, capture the 2001 BCS National Championship with a convincing win over Nebraska.

It was then, with hours of NFL tape during Taylor’s brief stint with the Washington Redskins to follow, that Collins pinpointed the position he wanted to master as one of college football’s future most-feared hitters.

“That’s the reason I wear No. 26,” Collins said. “That was my guy before he passed away.”

Taylor died in 2007 from a gunshot wound suffered while protecting his wife during a home invasion in Miami. An All-Pro defender with the Redskins at the time, the Washington, D.C. area was rattled by the news and showed extreme support to Taylor’s family, later naming him one of the franchise’s ’80 Greatest Redskins’ in 2012 posthumously.

In January, Collins refused to trade his number to incoming Alabama freshman Marlon Humphrey who also donned Taylor’s 26 in high school:

Collins told Saturday Down South he taped his fingers during road games as a prep standout in New Orleans to copy Taylor’s old-school flair and lines up wide receivers for direct hits across the middle to punctuate an enforcer mentality.

Collins has demonstrated how safety is meant to be played this season for the nation’s top-ranked team, combining controlled aggression with a knack for finding the football en route to several national honors.

Alabama takes on fourth-ranked Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, one of two national semifinals that day.

“We’re excited about playing in the College Football Playoff,” Collins said. “My job is to make sure my guys are ready to handle their assignments and work as a team to win the game. That’s our focus.”