Alabama's Forristall expecting increased role this season

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Practically every football program across the country, from Pee Wee through the NFL, will talk about the "next man up" mantra in regards to injuries.

Few programs, at any level, have the ability to overcome health setbacks the way Alabama does. It means a player often only gets a small window to prove his worth for the Crimson Tide before someone else, who is undoubtedly another top recruit, gets the chance to take the spot and run with it.

That situation happened to Miller Forristall last year. The Cartersville High graduate missed virtually the entire 2017 season with an ACL injury, and his inability to be at 100% entering the 2018 campaign meant a slide down the pecking order.

Those ahead of Forristall have since moved on to the NFL. Now, it's his turn to take advantage of the opening and secure a major role with the Crimson Tide.

“That’s something you dream about as a kid, playing and being able to contribute to a team any way you can, specifically in a role where you’ll have more playing time,” Forristall said. “I’m pretty excited for that. I’ve been waiting a couple of years for that. I’m just super excited to get out there and do whatever I need to do. Whatever my role becomes, I will do that to the utmost of my ability.”

Entering the year, it appears that role will be a starting one. Following the graduation of Hale Hentges and early departure of Irv Smith Jr. — who signed with the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings, respectively — Forristall is the seasoned veteran of the tight ends group.

The redshirt junior sits atop the depth chart heading into fall camp, and if last year was any indication, the position is still a vital one in Alabama's offense.

One positive to come from last year was that Forristall had time to learn from Jeff Banks, who was in his first season as tight ends coach for the Crimson Tide. Unfortunately, a majority of Forristall's playing time came through Banks' other role — special teams coordinator. Despite playing in all 15 of Alabama's games, Forristall had no catches but did record two kickoff returns.

“I think last year was a great learning experience for me, coming off a year after an ACL [injury],” Forristall said. “You’re obviously different than the year before. There’s still some recovery to be done. I think it was a really good year for me to catch up to that. It was also a really good year for me to take in coaching from a new coach, because we had a new tight ends coach last year. I was able to learn the system from him and his coaching points.”

Ideally, Forristall will be fully healthy coming into the 2019 campaign, which begins for Alabama against Duke Aug. 31 in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium. If so, the former Canes star could be primed for a breakout season.

Some are hoping to get ahead of the bandwagon. Forristall picked up preseason all-SEC third-team honors. He also was one of 60 tight ends named to the John Mackey Award watch list.

“I’m super excited,” Forristall said of the upcoming season. “Camp is right around the corner. This is where we’ll know what kind of team we have. Obviously, we’ve had a great summer, good work with the strength coaches, and really good to see the team grow and develop.

"But these next couple of weeks are the most crucial we have before the season starts. I’m super excited to take advantage of those weeks, kind of see what we’ve got and see what we’ll be as a team.”

He's certainly not the only one anxious to see how the Crimson Tide look. The entire country is waiting to see if Alabama's lopsided defeat to Clemson in the College Football Playoff title game was a mere blip or the first sign of a larger issue.

Frankly, most people are hoping it's the latter. Forristall and everyone inside the program firmly believe it was the former. They're ready to prove that.

“You learn from winning, and you learn more from losing,” Forristall said. “Last year, we obviously lost, and we can learn a lot from that. That’s something we’ve tried to focus on. … See what we did well, and see what we did poorly to try to improve upon it. I think that’s something we’ve done a good job of.”

Forristall has also done a good job of taking on more of a leadership role heading into his fourth season with the Crimson Tide. At this point, he's one of the most veteran players in the locker room.

Including his injury marred season, Alabama is 41-3 in Forristall's time there. He's won two SEC championships. There's been one national title win and two championship game losses. He's pretty much experienced everything possible at this level.

“I’ve been through the ringer, so I can impart some wisdom on these guys that come in and struggle with the same things I did,” Forristall said. “I’ve been here, this is now my fourth year, and I’ve seen football-wise about everything you’re going to see.

"What these freshmen struggle with, I struggled with. What these sophomores struggle with, I struggled with. The injuries these guys go through, I struggled with.”

Along with the younger players in Tuscaloosa, Forristall also has the capabilities to serve as a mentor for those back home in Cartersville. And he loves seeing the Canes maintaining the level of success they had during his time in the program.

If Forristall needed a reminder of how long it's been since he wore the purple inside Weinman Stadium, he got it with a visit to a Cartersville spring practice this year. He got to be up close as rising senior quarterback Tee Webb threw darts around the field.

“Tee Webb was our ball boy and sat at our table for pregame meals as an eighth-grader. We would always joke around and give him a hard time,” Forristall recalled. “I went and watched a spring practice, now, Tee Webb is out there, spinning the ball. It’s really cool. It’s gone full circle with Tee. … I’m super proud of that guy and what he’s accomplished. I can’t wait to see what they do this fall.

“Obviously, coach [Conor] Foster has done a fantastic job and will continue to do so. I have the utmost respect and know he’ll get the job done no matter who’s there. They’re going to be good for a long time, they’ve been good for a long time and I’m glad I could be a part of that.”