Alabama fans got an early Christmas present Friday when they were notified that their top two players were expected to play in the Sugar Bowl.
Not only are Will Anderson, Jr. and Bryce Young expected to play, but the Crimson Tide won't have a single player opt-out, an extremely rare occurrence for a game that most would consider “meaningless."
In his meeting with the media after the Crimson Tide’s first bowl practice Friday evening, Nick Saban confirmed that his two stars would be participating in the Sugar Bowl and what it means to the program.
"I think that Will and Bryce coming back to play in the game speaks volumes of the kind of culture we have in the program," Saban said. "Guys like that wanting to try to improve themselves and have respect for their teammates to come back. They're the leaders on the team. They're the most inspirational players, so that's something I think that is very special as well."
Other Alabama players that are projected to be first round draft picks that have chosen to play are running back Jahmyr Gibbs and defensive back Brian Branch. Safety Jordan Battle, offensive lineman Emil Ekiyor, Jr., defensive lineman Byron Young and linebacker Henry To’oTo’o have also decided to play before most likely entering the draft as projected second round picks.
The news of his star players choosing to put their teammates and the team first over their individual selves pleased Nick Saban. He praised their leadership and competitiveness.
"I can't tell you how much I respect them as competitors," Saban emphasized. "Guys that have been great teammates on this team and the leadership they have given and are showing and the leadership they continue to show by playing in this game."
Alabama will be a little shorthanded, as they have had 12 scholarship players enter the transfer portal and not participate in any team activities, including the bowl game.
The position that has been hit the most this off-season by way of the transfer portal has been the offensive line. When asked about the lack of depth because of the transfer portal, Saban voiced his displeasure with the situation.
"I think you guys know who is on the team," Saban said. "We don't have any secret admirers that snuck in in the middle of the night. It is what it is. We're going to coach the guys that we have, and it'll be an opportunity for some other guys to get a lot of playing time. Certainly, get a lot of practice time and a lot of repetitions and hopefully, that enhances our chances of being successful.“
Friday was the first of seven bowl practices the Crimson Tide will have before they leave for New Orleans to play the #9 Kansas State Wildcats on December 31.
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