SAN JOSE–When the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide clinched a berth in the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship game, junior offensive tackle Jonah Williams knew his teammates needed advice.
“What should we order at In-N-Out?,” they asked.
Williams, one of three Crimson Tide players who played high school football in Northern California, doesn’t mess around.
The first half of the 6-foot-5, 301-pound lineman’s order sounds like a complicated Alabama passing play. The second half is an assurance that yes, Williams is ordering off the same menu as the everyday customers.
“A 4-by-4, two flying Dutchmen, animal style fries, neapolitan shake and a pink lemonade.”
Since arriving on campus in 2016, Williams has earned All-America honors and has helped the Crimson Tide win 41 of their last 43 games. In his last three years at Folsom High just 25 miles outside of Sacramento, he teamed up with Jake Browning, a four-year starting quarterback at Washington, to win 45 of 47 games for the regional powerhouse.
Winning is engrained in the culture in Tuscaloosa, but like Williams, most of Alabama’s players and coaches developed that habit before they joined the program. They expect their winning ways to continue Monday at Levi’s Stadium against No. 2 Clemson, a team they will face for the fourth straight season.
Though Williams is the only Northern California product who will start in Monday’s game, he may not be the Golden State native with the biggest role. Alabama defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi must dial up a defense to defend sensational freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but the De La Salle (Concord) grad knows his Xs and Os.
Before he studied under Nick Saban, he learned under legendary Spartans coach Bob Ladouceur. When Lupoi was a senior under Ladouceur in 1999, De La Salle won its 100th consecutive game in the midst of its national record 151-game win streak.
“Before I even attended De La Salle, my brother attended De La Salle, I was a ball boy at De La Salle, so it’s a big part of my DNA, a big part of my life and my foundation,” Lupoi said.
Unsurprisingly, Lupoi sees parallels between the way the Spartans and Crimson Tide run their programs.
“There are a lot of similarities with Coach Ladouceur and Coach Saban from accountability standpoint, our approach standpoint,” Lupoi said. “What we put into our preparation. I think it’s been great for me and a blessing for me to be a part of such great organizations and families.”
To counter Clemson’s offense, Lupoi will lean on one of the deepest defensive lines in football. His rotation sometimes includes Vita Musika, a Milpitas High grad who battled his way to a scholarship at Alabama after beginning his post-high school career at the College of San Mateo.
A cousin of Tampa Bay Buccaneers first round pick Vita Vea, Musika has recorded three tackles in five games in his first season at Alabama. Musika enrolled in May and is back home to compete for a national title in January, a turnaround that’s made him “speechless.”
When it comes to describing the difference between life in the Bay Area and Tuscaloosa, Musika had plenty to tell his teammates.
“They ask how are the people (in California), and I’m like, ‘Definitely not like Alabama.” Musika said. “It’s just a huge culture shock. It’s not city life, like there’s one little city in the middle of nowhere.”
Musika said he’s grown accustomed to life in the South, a process that has been difficult for Antioch High graduate and Alabama running back Najee Harris. After rushing for nearly 8,000 yards in his high school career, Harris has spent most of his time with the Crimson Tide as a third-string tailback.
Despite a slow start to his college career, Harris endeared himself to fans by rushing for 64 yards on six carries in last year’s championship win over Georgia. If given the chance Monday, Harris has confidence he’ll be able to again impact the outcome with his play-making abilities.
It helps to know he’ll be playing in front of family, friends and former coaches.
“It’s good to represent Northern Cali,” Harris said. “Even when I’m over there, I try to represent wearing all types of Northern Cali stuff, necklaces and bracelets and that type of stuff. To be back home, it’s even better. I’m trying to put on a show, but we’ll see how stuff goes.”
Even if Harris doesn’t put on a show himself, Alabama typically does. That show usually ends with a familiar result.