Alabama freshman defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick has been special this season on a roster filled with special players.
Fitzpatrick arrived in Tuscaloosa this summer as a five-star talent out of New Jersey, and he didn't take long to venture into the starting lineup. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has compiled 41 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks entering the New Year's Eve showdown against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, and he has two interception returns for touchdowns.
"It's all been really humbling, because everybody here are five stars, but none of that really matters," Fitzpatrick said. "Once you get here, you've just got to be willing to compete. There is always someone wanting to take your spot.
"When you're at Alabama, you're going up against the best players in the nation every single day at practice and every single Saturday."
The Crimson Tide finished their on-campus workouts for the Cotton Bowl on Tuesday, practicing for 90 minutes in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts. Alabama players will have three days off before reconvening Saturday.
Fitzpatrick has played his share of cornerback this year and currently is the starter at the "star" when Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and secondary coach Mel Tucker employ five defensive backs.facebook
Seven games into his college career, Fitzpatrick earned a place in Alabama lore by returning two interceptions for touchdowns in a 41-23 win at Texas A&M on Oct. 17. His returns were 33 and 55 yards, and he is the only Tide player to accomplish such a feat in records that date back to 1948.
Two weeks before his monstrous game against the Aggies, Fitzpatrick scored his first touchdown on a 1-yard return of a blocked punt at Georgia.
"I think I've had a good year and have gotten better as the year has gone on," Fitzpatrick said. "There were a lot of plays earlier in the season where we would look at the film on Monday, and Coach Tucker would be like, 'What are you doing?'
"I wish I had gotten more action at times, but I can't decide who throws at me and who doesn't."
Fox Sports on Tuesday named Fitzpatrick as the No. 8 true freshman in college football, tabbing Crimson Tide receiver Calvin Ridley at No. 5.
Fitzpatrick and the Tide secondary soon will be facing Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, who has thrown for 2,921 yards and racked up 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He is a potential first-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft, something the Southeastern Conference did not possess at that position this year.
"This might be the best quarterback we've played against all year long," Tide head coach Nick Saban said.
Alabama will counter with a defense that led the SEC with 16 interceptions and led the nation with 442 yards on interception returns.
"We have a great team," Fitzpatrick said, "and if we keep executing and keep playing like we've been playing, we can win it all."
Contact David Paschall at dpaschall @timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.