It wasn’t until midway through the season that freshman Patrick Surtain II felt completely comfortable with the defensive playbook.

But by that point, the 6-foot-2, 212-pound former 5-star had already solidified his spot as one of Alabama’s starting cornerbacks.

Surtain won the job with his play off the bench against Ole Miss in week three. After the Rebels stunned Alabama with a long touchdown pass on the first play of the game, coach Nick Saban subbed in Surtain to replace Saivion Smith. He helped the Crimson Tide secondary limit Ole Miss’ passing attack to 58 points the rest of the game.

“Pat’s been amazing,” Smith said. “He stepped in early.”

In his first career start against Texas A&M the next week, Surtain showed the skills that made him one of the nation’s most-coveted recruits. With time winding down before the half, Aggies receiver Quartney Davis ran deep down the middle of field. Breaking out of his backpedal, Surtain ran with him, beating Davis to Kellen Mond’s pass and securing his first career interception.

As the season progressed, Surtain continued to tackle the most challenging part of his transition from high school to college: Alabama’s playbook. Earlier this season, outside linebacker Christian Miller described the playbook as ‘big’ and ‘very complex.’

“It’s difficult,” Surtain said. “Coach Saban puts a lot of adjustments, all that, into it.”

Surtain attributes his quick development to the guidance of older players on the defense.

“The whole DB unit, the older guys, they took me under their wing,” Surtain said. “They taught me things, how to be an Alabama football player, stuff like that. They took me under their wing and I thank them a lot.”

Surtain’s comfortability with his assignment translated to strong performances on the field. He’s tied for third on the team with six pass breakups, has made 33 tackles and forced one fumble. Surtain’s play this season earned him recognition at Alabama’s annual awards banquet for winning the Defensive Achievement Award.

On Saturday, after Alabama’s miraculous victory over Georgia in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Surtain sought out an old friend among the confetti — Tyson Campbell. Campbell, a freshman cornerback for the Bulldogs, was Surtain’s teammate at American Heritage High School in Florida. Campbell sat next to Surtain when he committed to Alabama in February.

For Surtain, the decision to choose the Crimson Tide over longtime favorite LSU came down to the eleventh hour. It was such an important choice that it left him in tears the night before.

But standing in a locker room filled with teammates celebrating an SEC Championship, knowing that his team was — without a doubt — advancing to the College Football Playoff, Surtain was more than content with his decision.

“That’s why I chose to come here,” Surtain said, “to play in big-time games like this.”