Lester Cotton is right back where he was a year ago, fighting for a starting spot on Alabama’s offensive line.
The 6-foot-4, 325-pound Central High School graduate enters his senior season having played in 29 games, starting 18 at guard. He started 13 games on the Crimson Tide’s national championship team last year before missing the title game after sustaining a knee injury in the second half of the semifinal victory over Clemson.
Cotton knows what it’s like to start, and what it’s like to lose a starting position. He started five games as a sophomore, but Korren Kirven took over his spot during the season’s stretch run. He came into last fall competing to get that job back: He won it and kept it.
“We’ve got a lot of good guys on the offensive line,” Cotton said at Bryant-Denny Stadium last Saturday at Alabama’s media day. “We’re competing constantly every day — even in the season it’s still like a competition.
“Every day you’re competing. I was fighting for my job like everybody else.”
Losing his spot two seasons ago was a humbling experience. He learned from that what it takes to be a good teammate.
“I just know whatever happens, I’ve got to be for the team,” Cotton said. “I might just not be feeling it one game and they might say, all right, we need to go with this guy. I can’t sit there and play the blame game or say the coaches are out to get me or bench me.
“It’s still a game and I’ve still got to coach my teammates and help them the best way that I can, whoever the (starting) five is.”
Senior running back Damien Harris has seven career 100-yard rushing games. Cotton has started five of them.
“Lester’s definitely a guy that you love to run behind,” Harris said. “He’s a guy who will protect you at all costs. He kind of sets the tone up front and lets people know he’s not going to let people mess with his skill players.”
There’s also a chemistry that develops between a back and a lineman who have spent time on the field together. The back learns exactly when to cut, to anticipate which way the blocker is going to take the defender.
“It’s muscle memory,” Harris said. “It’s like we’re always on the same page. I kind of know what he’s going to do, he kind of knows what I’m going to do, so it all kind of works out perfectly sometimes. We work on that a lot in practice.”
Cotton has spent time in the weight room, but also in the film room. He has sought to expand his football knowledge going into his final collegiate season.
“It’s really just learning the game, more detail, understanding like I know how to do the play but learning what the receivers do, what’s the quarterback reading when we’re running an option or read play,” he said. “I felt I needed to learn, make myself mentally smarter of the game knowing this is something that I love.”
Cotton settled in at right guard last season. The year before he started at both guard spots.
“I’m at left guard now, beside (tackle) Jonah (Williams) and (center) Ross (Pierschbacher), so I think that’s something that the coaches agreed to me being comfortable with, so we’re just going to go through fall camp and see how it goes,” he said. “If that means me going back to right guard, I’m comfortable playing right guard as well as I’m comfortable at left.”
Cotton stays in touch with some of his old teachers, coaches and administrators at Central. The demands of being an Alabama football player, even in the offseason, have kept him from visiting much lately, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots.
“I’m a Central Falcon for life,” he said.
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.