The beginning of the end

The beginning of the end

Geno Matias-Smith was named the Alabama Defensive Player of the Week following last year’s Iron Bowl. CW | Layton Dudley

For 25 men, Saturday will mark the last time they play football in Bryant-Denny Stadium for The University of Alabama. They’ll continue to sport their respective jersey numbers for the last two regular season games and, they hope, into the postseason as well.

But after Saturday’s game against Charleston Southern, those 25 seniors will never again experience running through that Bryant-Denny tunnel and being greeted by loud cheers from thousands of fans. This is it. This is their final moment.

“The pregame ceremony that we have for them probably is something that really makes me happy and proud to recognize these guys for the contributions they’ve made on the field, off and in the community,” coach Nick Saban said. “As group, they’ve done an outstanding job of representing The University of Alabama.”

Luckily for senior offensive lineman Dominick Jackson, who injured his right ankle during the Tennessee game, Saban said he’s been practicing this week. He will not have to sit out his last home game, while players Minkah Fitzpatrick and Kenyan Drake will.

Senior day means a lot to defensive back Geno Matias-Smith.

“It’s crazy that it’s my last game in Bryant-Denny, but I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going out and having a great game, getting another victory.”

Looking back on his career, Matias-Smith said his favorite game in Bryant-Denny would probably be last year’s 25-20 win over Mississippi State. The offense had great drives, but also, the defense got a safety in the first quarter to put the first points up on the board.

He’s going to miss the fans, hearing Sweet Home Alabama and Dixieland Delight, which he admitted to singing along with sometimes, playing through the stadium speakers.

“There’s a lot of things I’m going to miss,” he said.

Matias-Smith felt this year's team is tighter than last year’s. Everyone – offense, defense and scout team players – have bonded well and get along.

Matias-Smith thought there was great leadership on the team during his freshman year. This year, he once again feels that way. Both years have had leaders who are vocal and leaders who showed it by their gameplay.

“We have a mixture, which makes it work,” he said.

The team has found leaders in seniors Ryan Kelly, Reggie Ragland, Jarran Reed and Darren Lake.

As Alabama’s nose tackle, Lake has done a really good job in Saban’s eyes, but not just on the field.

“There’s probably not a guy that I’m prouder of on our whole team than Darren Lake in terms of where he’s come as a person, how well he’s done in school based on his academic background and how much he’s improved as a football player,” Saban said.

It doesn’t matter where a player came from. It doesn’t matter how successful he was or wasn’t in the past. What matters is that he finds success, that he has a chance to graduate after playing and improving here as a football player.

“That’s what college football is all about,” Saban said. “Certainly the reason I love it.”

Certainly it’s all so surreal that these next few games are Matias-Smith's last few games with this team.

“Everything comes to an end, so you just got to move forward,” he said.

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