MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Inevitably, Alabama's All-American center Barrett Jones and Notre Dame's All-American linebacker Manti Te'o will butt heads like two unyielding rams in the midst of the BCS National Championship Game Monday night at Sun Life Stadium. But their first meeting on the postseason awards circuit traveling in December wasn't exactly a clash of titans.
Jones was nursing a foot injury as he and Te'o prepared to board their first flight together.
"I had a boot on my foot, and I was 'crutching' it," Jones said Saturday. "I was struggling with my bag, and he came over and said, 'Let me get your bag for you.' OK, Manti Te'o, yeah, get my bag. Thanks. That set the tone for how nice a guy he is.
"We were in New York together, went to Houston together and were in Orlando together. Our families were all there. We had dinners together, and I got to know him in a different sense. He's a great person, a joy to be around."
After the final whistle Monday night, Jones and Te'o will be friends again. But for three hours or so, they and the men surrounding them in the trenches will engage in a battle royale between a great Alabama offensive line that includes first-team All-American tackle Chance Warmack and second-team All-American tackle D.J. Fluker and a Notre Dame (12-0) scoring defense ranked first in the country.
Alabama (12-1) wants to run the ball with 1,000-yard rushers Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, and Jones will be the key to making that happen. Before he can put a helmet on Te'o, the 6-5, 302-pound Jones must find a way to move 326-pound Irish nose tackle Louis Nix III.
"He's a great player," Jones said of Nix. "He has great hands, great feet and seems to be very smart and plays within the scheme very well. It's probably the biggest challenge I've faced all year."
If 'Bama's blockers can't get to Te'o in time, they know he'll be a terror in the middle of the field, not only stopping the run but disrupting the passing lanes.
"He plays with a lot of heart and passion, and you can really see that and how much he loves the game and his teammates," Jones said. "It's rare that you turn on the film and can really see that a guy is a leader. That's what you can see with him."
Alabama has 35 rushing touchdowns this season, but Notre Dame has given up only two scores on the ground all season. The Irish defeated Stanford in overtime and USC with the aid of two epic goal-line stands.
"They have an excellent red-zone defense, especially on the goal line," Jones said. "It's almost weird watching it. It's a big challenge and something we've worked on a lot."
Jones said he's over the foot injury and ready to make the 50th start of his college career. This season, he's the center, but in the past, he played guard and tackle. Clearly, center suits him because of the cerebral challenge enjoyed by the National Football Foundation's Campbell Award winner as scholar-athlete of the year and the sense of control it gives him over the offense.
If Jones makes the right blocking calls and Alabama's offensive line cracks Notre Dame's defense, the Crimson Tide will celebrate its third BCS title in Jones' four seasons.
"I have not let it sink in, and I choose not to," Jones said. "If we win, then we can talk about things like legacies and how much we've accomplished. But now, we've been brainwashed to not think of those things and just focus on the game at hand."