Friday, Alabama received the surprising but great news that quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson, two projected top-five NFL draft picks, would be participating in the Crimson Tide's upcoming bowl game. Not only are the Tide's top two stars deciding to play, but Alabama is expected not to have a single player opt out, which is almost unheard of since 2016 when Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey started the trend of NFL prospects sitting out of meaningless bowl games.
Most advisors would tell players of the caliber of Young and Anderson to sit out of the bowl game, that the only reason to play would be to improve their draft stock, which neither player needs to improve. Young is projected by most as the first quarterback to come off the board and possibly the first overall player to be selected. Anderson is the best draft-eligible edge pass rusher and is expected to be a top-three draft pick with the possibility of battling Young for the first overall spot.
Since most would say these players have nothing to gain and everything to lose, why are they deciding to play in the Sugar Bowl on December 31?
On Monday, Anderson spoke with reporters and had an opportunity to explain why he chose to play in the bowl game.
"It was all just about leadership and being here for the team," Anderson said. "I've been preaching so much over these last two years about how to do things the right way, the standard around here, and how to uphold the standard. It wouldn't be right for me to walk out on my teammates. I think that's a big reason why I decided to play in this game and play with those guys."
Playing in an extra game, there is always a chance of injury, and Anderson was questioned on if or how he could protect his body from injury in the upcoming game against #9 Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl.
"I have faith in God," Anderson said. "God makes no mistakes. That's another thing that me and Coach Saban talked about was the risk factor. That was never anything in my mind. I've been playing three years here, some of the hardest football of my life, SEC football, and if I had that same mentality going into my freshman year, I probably wouldn't be standing up here right now because I'd be worried about getting hurt or something. I probably wouldn't have achieved as much as I would have. So just going out there, playing fast and having fun and not worrying about anything else."
Young was also asked about his decision to play in the Sugar Bowl on Monday.
"It was just I wanted to finish with my teammates this season," Young said. "There's a lot of work, a lot that's gone into this year, and I just get another chance to play with my brothers. That's really how I look at it. This is a great opportunity for us as a team, for me, for all of us, and we've all had each other's backs all year. It's been about accountability, about making sure that we're holding ourselves to our standards, and that's words that we all live by, that I live by. So for me, it was easy. It's another opportunity to go out there and play with my brothers."
Like Anderson, Young was also asked about how he could protect himself from injury during the Sugar Bowl, and like Anderson, Young did not seem to be worried about injury either.
"The goal is always to go out there and win and do whatever it takes to win and do what I have to do what's best for the team," Young said. "I know everything happens for a reason. I place my faith in God, and I'm doing what's best for the team, whatever it is – play by play, possession by possession – on offense to try and put points on the board."
While most would argue that these young men are taking a business risk, the answers and responses that Anderson and Young provided for their reason to play in the bowl game speaks volumes to the standard that Nick Saban has instilled in the Alabama program. For these players, it truly is not about the name on the back of the jersey but the name on the front.
College football fans across the nation hope that this starts a new trend of players participating in bowl games.
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