Alabama iron man Ross Pierschbacher set to tie FBS record


By Hannah Saad

James Ogletree, Staff Writer

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Only one college football player in the history of the Football Bowl Subdivision, the sport’s highest level, has done what Alabama senior center Ross Pierschbacher could accomplish in the national championship game on Monday night.

The game would be Pierschbacher’s 57th career start, tying the record that former Alabama punter J.K. Scott set in last year’s national title game. Clemson left tackle Mitch Hyatt is also in position to tie the record.

“(Scott’s) a punter, so technically I feel like I can claim it,” Pierschbacher said. “But that’s very cool. It’s just been a crazy ride.”

It may have been crazy, but few paths could have better prepared Pierschbacher for the rigors of professional football than the one he has taken. Having started four full seasons against SEC defenses and an additional seven College Football Playoff games – and playing three different positions – there’s not much the senior hasn’t seen.

That’s partly why, after the graduation of former center Bradley Bozeman, who started every game over the last two seasons, coaches decided Pierschbacher’s extensive experience qualified him to move from guard to center.

“I feel like he’s started, what, 100 games or something like that?” running back Damien Harris said, laughing. “He’s been in every situation. That poise and that demeanor he has in big games and tough situations, he’s always giving us confidence. We know that everything starts through him and he gets us right.”

That was never more evident than earlier this season in one of the most hostile road environments in college football. LSU, then ranked No. 3, hosted top-ranked Alabama in Tiger Stadium, and the noise caused problems early for Alabama’s offense.

Offensive line coach Brent Key said Pierschbacher, who moments earlier had made his 51st start, the most by an Alabama offensive lineman under coach Nick Saban, doesn’t get enough credit for what he did to ensure the offense could continue to communicate and snap the ball on time.

“We get into their student area, and it was loud, really loud,” Key said. “We were using a clap cadence and different cadences and we had a couple mishaps. He put his head between his legs and for the rest of the game – I think it was 65 or 70 plays – Ross played the entire game with his head between his legs, waiting for the quarterback to signal for the snap.

“It really goes unnoticed, but that’s one of the more remarkable things I’ve seen.”

Other veterans might be hesitant to share their knowledge with younger players who threaten to replace them, but according to redshirt sophomore center Chris Owens, Pierschbacher readily mentors younger O-linemen in technique, the offensive playbook, how to read defenses, and how to best prepare and budget their time.

During Saturday’s Media Day for the national championship, Owens called across a table of offensive linemen upon hearing Pierschbacher’s name, wanting to share stories about the senior.

“I’ve been here for about three years now, and of course, Ross has been starting since like 1998,” Owens said. “I’ve sat behind Ross at guard and I’m behind him at center right now. Just watching the way he goes about each week and looking at his preparation, Ross is just the ultimate competitor and the ultimate person. He does everything the program asks him to do, he’s always on his Ps and Qs, he’s never stepping out of line.”

Owens went on to say any player would be lucky to learn from Pierschbacher, who “seems like he has everything mastered.”

Even nose tackle Quinnen Williams, arguably the team’s best player, is sometimes left to marvel at Pierschbacher’s game.

“Ross Pierschbacher’s the GOAT, for real,” Williams said, shaking his head and smiling. “I go against him every day. Going against him helps me out tremendously. He’s a veteran. He can make the one-on-one blocks, he can make the double-team blocks, he’s physical up front, and he can be passive on pass plays. His footwork is amazing, like he’s 100 pounds.”

In early December the team announced that Pierschbacher and Harris, as well as linebacker Christian Miller and tight end Hale Hentges, would be the team’s permanent captains whose names will be engraved at Denny Chimes in the spring.

They are also two of the only five players to have played in all three previous playoff games against Clemson. Their fourth matchup against the Tigers will also be their final time suiting up for the Crimson Tide, but the memories they’ve made will long outlive their football careers.

“It feels like we’ve been here forever,” Harris said. “Me and Ross have developed a great friendship. He’s one of the keys to our offense; really everything runs through him. He’s kind of the anchor. He makes the calls and we follow.

(He’s) just a guy that you really want in your locker room. He’s very deserving of being selected as a (permanent) captain, so being able to share that honor with him is truly special. Playing with guys like Ross is what makes this game fun. It’s what you’ll always remember.”