By (Matthew Speakman)

ATLANTA- Alabama head coach Nick Saban officially ruled out right guard Lester Cotton from playing in the national championship against Georgia. Cotton suffered a left leg injury and left the game in the third quarter against Clemson.

Cotton started all of Alabama’s previous 13 games at right guard. Saban also ruled out linebacker Anfernee Jennings, who posted on Twitter earlier this week that he would not play.

“I think it’s documented out there that we lost two more players in the last game, Lester Cotton and Anfernee Jennings,” Saban said. “Both starters are out for this game.”

Just like that, offensive lineman J.C. Hassenauer will have to do what he’s done all season: step up.

Hassenauer came in for Cotton in the Clemson game. He has served as Alabama’s back-up plan all season, playing multiple positions and filling in for different starters when they’ve been out with injuries.

“We have a ‘next man up’ mentality here,” Hassenauer said. “We all preach it. It’s definitely a blessing that they all trust me. The coaches trust met to play all of those positions.”

Originally serving as a center, Hassenauer can play all over the offensive line. When guard Ross Pieschbacher went down with an injury against Mississippi State, Hassenauer finished the game at left guard.

He started the Mercer and Auburn games at the position. Hassenauer also serves as the team’s back-up center behind Bradley Bozeman. Having a player that can fill any position on the offensive line has helped Alabama’s offensive line stay strong despite injuries throughout the year.

“It’s really nice because we never have to worry about being down a person,” tackle Matt Womack said. “He comes in and does as good of a job as anybody else.”

On the biggest of stages, Hassenauer and Womack will play right next to each other for the first time all year. Offensive line play is very dependent on communication. Losing starters can hurt the chemistry.

That hasn’t happened with Hassenauer. In the week leading up to the national championship, Alabama’s offensive line has had no drop off.

“It’s been a really smooth transition,” Womack said. “He’s already come in a couple times this season, and always does a good job. It’s been smooth.”

Part of that smooth transition is because of Hassenauer’s experience in the program. He’s been at Alabama for five years, and has worked with offensive line coach Brent Key for two of those years.

“He knows the playbook backwards and forwards,” Jonah Williams said. “He has great technique. He’s been a really dependable player for us.”

It will be Hassenauer’s third start of the season, but it’s easily his biggest. A national championship is on the line against one of the toughest defenses in football.

Hassenauer will do what he’s done all year long. Fill in for starters and make sure Alabama’s offensive line maintains its dominance. That will be huge, as Georgia relies on its front seven to make plays.

“It’s going to come down to the physicality of the game,” Hassenauer said. “They’re very physical and tough.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports