For Tide's Louisiana contingent, coveted rematch against LSU is personal
Christian Harris was raised virtually in the shadow of Tiger Stadium and attended high school on LSU’s campus.
One of his best friends there was fellow Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses. Christopher Allen, a member of the same position group, hails from the other side of Baton Rouge. Receiver DeVonta Smith and reserve defensive lineman Ishmael Sopsher are products of Amite, a little over an hour northeast.
Eleven members of the Crimson Tide come from Louisiana. Each has a unique story, both of his upbringing and how a neighbor down the southern coast plucked him from under the nose of the home-state school.
Add in the fact Alabama has a rare opportunity to avenge a loss, and this weekend’s rescheduled matchup at LSU takes on layer upon layer of additional meaning.
“I can’t wait,” said defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis. “Just can’t wait. Y’all see when we get there. Gotta prepare for them well.”
The same can be said of any college football game during a pandemic. The Tide have been reminded of this season’s fragility on multiple occasions, from the postponement of this game due to a COVID-19 outbreak on LSU’s roster to coach Nick Saban missing this past Saturday’s win over Auburn after testing positive.
But this is why the SEC built in a bye week to its conference-only schedule. And now we get ‘Bama-LSU on the first weekend of December.
“This would normally be the 12th game of the season,” Saban said from home after his No. 1 squad made it look easy against Auburn. “We’re still gonna have 2 games left, and if we’re fortunate enough to have success in those games, a third game in the SEC Championship and maybe more after that. So I think we really got to try to take care of our team a little bit in terms of how we practice and how they recover and how we move forward with our team.”
Saban expects to be back on the sidelines for Saturday’s 8 p.m. ET matchup on CBS. For the second week in a row, Alabama can exact revenge against a team that helped knock it out of Playoff contention last season.
The Tide are now 11-2 in such games against SEC opponents.
“I don’t want to sound facetious here, but we only have a few of those where we can look at last year or the year before or whatever and say what happened was an issue or a problem,” said Saban, who, of course, won a national championship as LSU’s coach before adding 5 more at Alabama. “But I think that nobody likes to get disrespected, and I think when you lose a game, you feel that way to some degree. I think it’s human nature to try to make it right, so I do think that is a motivating factor for most human beings.”
A 46-41 loss to Joe Burrow and the Bayou Bengals last season certainly stung a little harder for guys like Harris.
The sophomore, who earned a starting role as a freshman, used to condition by running up and down the Mississippi River in his hometown. He was often accompanied by his older brother and Moses.
Harris went to University Lab High School, which is a mile from LSU’s football stadium and a feeder institution for Tigers athletics.
But Harris couldn’t resist Saban and his staff’s recruiting pitch. Neither could Moses, the senior captain who also attended University Lab before spending his senior season at IMG Academy in Florida.
Allen, Alabama’s leader in tackles for loss and sacks, prepped at Southern University Lab. Backup defensive back Eddie Smith is from Slidell, near the Louisiana-Mississippi border. Wideout Slade Bolden is a West Monroe guy — yes, the town where “Duck Dynasty” was filmed. DB Ronald Williams Jr. wound up at Alabama via Ferriday, Louisiana, then junior college football in Kansas, and running back Kyle Edwards is a Destrehan product.
And then there’s Smith, one of the tops if not the best receiver in school history.
LSU naturally wanted the 4-star recruit badly, but he’s yet another example of Saban’s staff successfully pilfering talent from neighboring locales.
“We’re pretty excited,” Harris said. “It’s a great opportunity. Especially, being that it’s gonna be like my first time being able to play in the LSU stadium. It’s really exciting. They got some good ol’ food down there, of course. But yeah, we’re gonna handle our business this week and go in and try to execute.”