HOMETOWN CHAMPPublished 12:06am Thursday, January 10, 2013
Nico Johnson is a champion once again.
The Andalusia native and Alabama senior linebacker completed his college football career on top — by winning a BCS National Championship.
Johnson and the rest of the Crimson Tide demolished top-ranked and undefeated Notre Dame 42-14 on Monday night in the 2013 Discover BCS National Championship at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Alabama’s victory over the Fighting Irish is the program’s third BCS title in four years, and 15th national championship. In fact, Johnson and the Crimson Tide have the most BCS titles in both the SEC and the nation since the bowl system was installed in 1998.
Just two days removed from lifting the crystal ball, Johnson said winning his third ring hasn’t hit yet.
“The only thing that’s hit me lately or in these past couple days is that I played my last college football game as a Crimson Tide player,” he said. “To win it again is something special.
“Everything we went through throughout the whole year — as far as people thinking that we weren’t going (back to the title game), and we couldn’t repeat and we couldn’t do something special because we lost so many great players on both sides of the ball — we used that as motivation and we tried to go out there and do our best week in and week out.
“Of course, we wanted No. 15,” he said. “I was just glad I was a part of it.”
During the regular season, Alabama was a well-oiled machine, getting big wins in conference play and dominating the non-conference schedule.
After an exciting and exhausting 21-17 win over rival Louisiana State, whom Alabama beat 21-0 in the 2012 BCS National Championship months earlier, the Crimson Tide fell 29-24 to Texas A&M in conference play.
Johnson said the loss to the Aggies helped turn the team around, and guided it in the right direction.
“We had much better talent than other teams,” he said about the schedule leading up to Texas A&M. “I’m not taking anything away from the other teams. Then, when Texas A&M came around, we met our match. It was more about being disciplined and doing your job. We kind of got away from that before the Texas A&M game.
“When we lost to them, that kind of turned it around for us,” he said. “That kind of made us realize we needed to play our best week in and week out no matter who we’re playing. That kind of woke us up.”
From there, the Crimson Tide was on a caffeine high.
Alabama went on to beat Western Carolina and arch rival Auburn 49-0 in each contest before narrowly defeating Georgia 32-28 in the SEC Championship on Dec. 1.
Georgia was only five yards away from almost getting back in the national championship when Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray completed a short pass as time ran out to give the Tide its title game berth.
The 2012 SEC Championship win was Johnson’s second as a player. Alabama beat Florida 32-13 in the 2009 conference title game.
With all of his experience on the championship level, Johnson said he made it a priority to make sure other players treated Monday’s game as if it were another game on the schedule.
“No matter the outside clutter; no matter how big the game is, we’ve still got to go out and execute the game, and we’ve got to go out there and perform our best,” Johnson said. “That’s what we did. We treated it like another game. We didn’t worry about the outside factors, and we didn’t worry about the things that didn’t matter up to the game.
“We just went in with the right mind-set and won the game the way we did,” he said.
In the title game, Johnson recorded one assisted tackle.
Johnson said he’s on track to graduate in May and is continuing a good training regiment. Next week, he’ll figure out who is going to be his agent.
In a matter of weeks, he’ll be donning a south jersey for the 2013 Senior Bowl in Mobile on Jan. 26.
Johnson said his earliest memory of attending a senior bowl was with local lawyer John Jones when he was 10 years old.
“I really didn’t understand the purpose of going to the senior bowl (as a child), but now being able to go through college football, I understand it more at how big it is for the players and coaches,” Johnson said. “It’s something special to me because I have an opportunity to go out and show the NFL scouts and coaches what I can do.”
When the Senior Bowl is over, another process will begin and he’s excited about what could be in his future, the Andalusia native said.
“I just want to say ‘thank you’ to the community of Andalusia and Covington Coujnty for always supporting me throughout my college career, and continuing to support me throughout whatever success I have in the future,” Johnson said. “Thank you and Roll Tide.”