FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Alabama All-American offensive guard Chance Warmack didn’t need any outside motivation.
He did just fine motivating himself.
“I always told myself that I was average,” Warmack said. “When I was in high school, I just wanted to get a scholarship. When I came to Alabama, I wanted to be All-SEC.
“There’s a big difference in being a good player and being a great player. This is Alabama. Everybody’s great here. That’s something I’m still chasing, probably something I’ll always be chasing. I like playing with a chip on my shoulder.”
Warmack, a 6-foot-3, 320-pound senior, is a textbook example of the way players develop at Alabama under Nick Saban.
Having played his high school football in Atlanta at Westlake High, Warmack wasn’t offered by Georgia until the last minute. He’d already locked in on Alabama by then and won the starting left guard job by his sophomore season.
A year ago, Warmack might have been the most underrated offensive lineman in college football. He wasn’t even a first-team All-SEC selection by the coaches.
One of his biggest fans is the guy he plays next to, senior center Barrett Jones, who just happens to be one of the most decorated offensive linemen in Alabama history.
“I’ve been trying to promote Chance for a long time,” Jones said. “It’s all going to pay off for him in April when he’s drafted about 20 picks higher than anybody else.”
Indeed, Warmack is rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. as the No. 7 overall prospect in the 2013 NFL draft and has established himself as the top interior offensive lineman in the college game.
“He just mashes people and is like having a big tractor clearing the way for you,” said Eddie Lacy, one of two Alabama running backs (along with freshman T.J. Yeldon) to rush for 1,000 yards this season.
It’s the first time in Alabama’s storied history that it’s had two running backs rush for 1,000 yards in the same season, and the first time it’s happened in the SEC since Darren McFadden and Felix Jones both did it at Arkansas in 2007.
“I guess we’re doing something right,” beamed Warmack, who doesn’t allow himself too many pats on the back.
Warmack’s value to the team this season has gone much deeper than just being a road-grader up front. He’s also become a more demonstrative leader.
“He doesn’t talk much. But when he does, everybody listens,” Lacy said.
Jones pulled his blocking mate aside a year ago and challenged him to be more of a leader.
“I just told him if we were going to have success that we needed him to step up and be a leader because we were losing a lot of leaders on our team,” Jones recounted. “In this past year, I’ve seen him become a whole new guy and grow and mature. He was named captain, which was really cool.”
Saban had a similar conversation with Warmack coming into this season.
“Chance has been a good player for a long time, but he was awful quiet,” Saban said. “He was one of those guys focused on doing his job. One day, I said to him, ‘This is your job, affecting other people and being a leader. You’re a senior now. That’s part of your job.’
“I don’t think he ever thought of it that way, but he’s responded like I hoped he would. Sometimes, it’s just the language with guys. They get into a comfort zone and don’t really realize how they can impact other people.”
Jones, who won the Outland Trophy in 2011, was pushing hard for Warmack to win the award this season as college football’s top interior lineman. When the three finalists were announced, Warmack wasn’t one of them, and Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel ended up winning the award.
Jones won the Rimington Award as the top center in college football.
“Barrett had talked to me about how cool it would be if I won the Outland and he won the Rimington,” Warmack said. “But when you look at everything and how it turned out, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m at a great institution, a great program with great coaches and players who care.
“The most important thing to me is what’s in front of us.”
Warmack said the Notre Dame front seven will be as stiff a challenge as Alabama’s offensive line has faced all season.
“They play smashmouth football and I can’t wait,” Warmack said. “It’s an exciting feeling to play a physical opponent who really doesn’t disguise anything.”
It’s also a chance to collect a third national championship ring and make a little history along the way.
Not bad for a guy who started this unforgettable ride with very modest expectations.
“We’ve hoisted that crystal ball up twice, and I’ve seen the work that’s gone into doing that,” Warmack said. “I’ve been blessed enough to be a part of something special that will be even more special when this is all over.
“The thing I want to do is make sure we finish it off the right way.”