DALLAS — Nine hours from the familiarity of Tuscaloosa is a sprawling metropolis–more of a collection of a dozen cities than one. The drive west on I-20 is long, often boring, seemingly never-ending.
For some on the University of Alabama football team, it’s home. For the others, it’s not unfamiliar. For some, the year started here, not in New Orleans. For others, just the season started here, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. For all, there is no intention of ending it here too.
“We came here with one goal and that’s to finish, man, and we’re going to stay focused and stay driving,” linebacker Denzel Devall said.
The season started here, but the quest for a national championship didn’t.
That started in preseason workouts, in the weight room, on the practice field. It started before that, in New Orleans on the first day of 2015.
“Because we didn’t finish the past two years so we took on that heart and whether or not we’re finishing a drill or anything, we’re going to finish it no matter what,” Devall said.
‘Finishing’ goes beyond just the end of a drill, though It’s a a motto, a mindset, for an Alabama team buried by many after a 43-37 loss to Ole Miss in September.
“It means finish whatever we’re doing, we need to finish,” defensive lineman Jarran Reed said. “We’re finishing at practice, finishing at workout, finishing the play, finishing the reps, finishing off tackles and then finish the game. You know, if you’re not doing those types of things, it’s going to be hard to win or be successful.”
For two years, Alabama hasn’t been able to finish its bowl game. Both ended in losses in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Last year, the team entered the game as the No. 1 seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff. It was favored to beat Ohio State, had a halftime lead, but lost after taking it to the wire with the eventual national champion.
“It’s just last year’s team had a great stride, we just didn’t finish so we just tell ourself we want to finish, not knocking off of last year, but last year we were a great team, focused, great players, great coaches, we just, we lost track,” linebacker Reuben Foster said. “This time, we just build this year over like staying focused and just trying to finish.”
But for some it’s more than just finishing better than last year. Obviously, the team wants to, but it was a year ago. The team is different. The team wants to stay focused, wants to finish what it started.
“We definitely want to finish better than last year,” running back Derrick Henry said. “We don’t want to focus on last year. We want to focus on this year. Guys did a great job coming in, focusing and practicing well. So we’re ready for Thursday.”
On defense, there’s a sense of urgency. The group is experienced, can rotate in two full lines. The unit likes to work.
That’s not always been the case with Alabama defenses in the past.
“It makes it a little bit different for me because they enjoy practice,” defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. “While there’s been some good defenses in the past, it was like pulling teeth getting them to go out there but they played good on Saturdays. This group enjoys it. It’s a joy to be around them.”
It’s not just the guys with experience who are locked in on the goal. When Alabama takes on Michigan State at 7 p.m. CT in the semifinal, everyone on the sideline for Alabama is homed in.
And that’s what it will take: everyone.
“Everybody’s focused in, from the walk-ons to the redshirts, just everybody even if they’re not playing, they’re focused in because they know how much this season means to Alabama and to the seniors,” said freshman defensive back Deionte Thompson. “Because I mean, everybody talks about how we’ve been down the last couple years and I mean, we don’t want to be the team to be that team that slips under the rug again. I mean, we want to finish on top.”
Thompson ended his high school career in AT&T Stadium with his West Orange-Stark High School teammates. They were up at halftime before eventually falling to Gilmer 35-25 in the state championship game.
He was redshirted this season for Alabama.
“We didn’t finish,” Thompson said. “And same thing happened for [Alabama] in the Ohio State game. They were up and they didn’t finish. It’s all about finishing now, just don’t let up so I think these guys have done a great job of doing that.
“The Ole Miss loss really humbled those guys and brought them all together. Like they’re just so tight now and when you get guys together that’s like together, I mean, tight and they’re all driving to win, no one can stop you.”
Source:: The Crimson White Sports