TUSCALOOSA | The first time the University of Alabama football team gathered after its loss to Texas A&M Nov. 10, it was Nico Johnson, Chance Warmack and AJ McCarron who spoke up. The first time it gathered after the stunning upsets that placed the Crimson Tide squarely back into the national title hunt, Damion Square decided it was his turn.
Players spoke Monday about the message Square delivered when they took their Sunday run.
"We learned a valuable lesson Texas A&M week and we can easily lose another game and learn another lesson, which we're trying to avoid," said senior safety Robert Lester. "We had a leader (Square) step up and talk ... and let the guys know, 'Hey, Oregon and Kansas State, they learned a lesson that we learned the week before.' There are a lot of lessons to be learned in college football."
Oregon and Kansas State's losses have left the national championship door ajar for the Crimson Tide. Meanwhile, a 3-8 Auburn team without a conference win still stands between Alabama and a lesser prize, the SEC West title.
The sentiments of Square, a senior leader at defensive end, were echoed in media interviews Monday in regard to focusing on only the Auburn game.
Meanwhile, coach Nick Saban remarked on topics like distractions and player stress and how they might affect on-field performance.
"Don't get emotionally stressed out or start playing to keep from getting beat and be tentative about your approach to what you're doing," Saban said. "I think it did happen to us and it probably happened to some other people. That's what we try to guard against. You've got to stay focused on the process of what you're doing right now."
To that extent, Saban likes players to filter out certain outside influences. On the outside, Las Vegas sportsbooks have handicapped the Tide as a 35-point favorite. On the inside, the focus is on task. And veteran players attest to an Auburn series that is among its most physical on the Alabama schedule, regardless of outcome.
"I think Square said it the other day when we got through running, yesterday, Sunday: 'We can't overlook our opponent. Never'," said linebacker Nico Johnson.
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0196.
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