ATHENS — The best defensive player in the nation has plans for redemption, and he made it clear he will continue to lead his Alabama teammates with that goal in mind this season.
Fact is, Will Anderson and the Crimson Tide have a long way to go and plenty of obstacles between them and a rematch with reigning national champion Georgia in the 2022 SEC Championship game.
Anderson’s background story with Georgia is a familiar one to UGA fans, as he grew up a Bulldogs’ fan in Hampton, Ga.
Coach Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs have recruited the linebacker position as well as any school in the nation, and at the time of Anderson’s recruitment the Georgia linebacker room was stacked with future NFL players.
The UGA coaching staff was also all-in on linebacker MJ Sherman, who coming out of St. John’s High School in metro Washington D.C. was rated ahead of Anderson early in the recruiting process before suffering a knee injury his junior year.
Anderson, who captured FWAA Freshman of the Year honors in 2020 and the Nagurski Award last season, has likely gotten over that.
But, Anderson recently revealed to On3s Ivan Maisel, he may never get over losing the CFP Championship Game to Georgia last January by a 33-18 count in Indianapolis.
“It’s always going to be in my head and in my heart,” said Anderson, who has only watched video of that loss just once. “I know. I don’t need to go watch it. I know it fuels me and the team already. We know what we gotta go do.”
The Crimson Tide is favored to win the SEC on the strength of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young returning, and the addition of explosive transfers Jahmyr Gibbs from Georgia Tech, and Jermaine Burton from Georgia.
Gibbs and Burton have both recently been mentioned as possible first-round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, while ESPN predicted Anderson would be the No. 1 overall pick.
“I don’t think people understand how smart Will is, how much he means to this team, how in command he is, how much of a leader he is for us,” Young told On3 Sports
“Being around him, knowing the person he is, knowing what he stands for, knowing how he carries himself in all facets of life, he is the complete package.”
If Alabama does indeed win the West Division and reach the SEC Championship Game again, Georgia will have the benefit of having an offensive coordinator in Todd Monken who knows how to deal with Anderson.
“Well, you certainly want to know where he is, (and) It’s not just from the pass-rush standpoint,” Monken said before last year’s CFP Championship Game.
“He does a really good job if you get into the zone-read game, where he tries to hit you at the junction point and try to disrupt from the open side.
“So -- and he plays with relentless effort. I think he has a tremendous skill set …. you gotta be careful about getting yourself in a drop-back passing game at any time and putting yourself at risk.
To Monken’s point, Anderson had 6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, a sack, and a QB hurry in Alabama’s 41-24 SEC Championship Game win against Georgia.
But in the CFP title game, the Bulldogs limited Anderson to 4 tackles with no sacks or hurries, as Georgia was able to keep the game close and run well enough to avoid becoming one-dimensional.