TUSCALOOSA — Matt Womack wanted a bit of a change coming into his final preseason at Alabama.
So, four years after arriving to school with a wavy mop-top of ginger-red hair that came down to his collar, the redshirt senior offensive lineman decided to go with a much cleaner look — like Mr. Clean-clean.
Before the start of camp last week, Womack had his father d o the deed and shaved off his rust-colored locks, much to his mother’s chagrin.
“His momma really didn’t want it shaved, but I did it (anyways),” his father, David Womack, said by phone Tuesday morning.
For Womack, it was an opportunity for a fresh start, and a practical way to avoid the August heat.
“I don’t know, new year, new me,” Womack said with a smile. “Camp’s hot so I figured I might as well go for it. I used to have long hair and figured I might as well go for the short hair.”
The new-look Womack, listed at 6-foot-7 and 325-pounds, still packs a wallop up front as one of Alabama’s most powerful run-blockers, and is getting every opportunity to show that while seeing significant reps as the starting right guard during spring and preseason camp this offseason.
While nothing is set in stone yet, Womack’s tone-setting blocking style and veteran leadership are a welcomed addition to a first-team offensive line that lost three of its five starters from a year ago. Only rising juniors Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills Jr. — who started all 15 games last season at right guard and right tackle, respectively — return, though Leatherwood has since slid over to his more natural left tackle spot, creating a big opportunity for Womack at right guard.
“Matt’s a mauler when it comes to running the football, so I think it’s going to be a good fit for him, and he likes the position,” David said. “(Of course), Matt’s a team-player, he’ll play anywhere.”
And so far, Womack’s taken that opportunity and run with it, knowing full well how quickly it can be taken away – especially after his troubles in 2018.
Womack originally cracked the fifth metatarsal — the long bone on the edge of the foot that connects to the pinkie toe — in his right foot after landing awkwardly during a box jump exercise last February.
Initially, coaches were hopeful he could practice through the crack during spring and then doctors could go in and repair it over the summer.
But while in Cancun during Spring Break last year, the injury worsened to a Jones fracture when he heard a loud pop while walking down simple flight of stairs. A week later, in mid-March, Womack underwent the first surgery to repair his right foot, which forced him to sit out all spring practice recovering.
“The doctor talked to us about it and he thought a plate with three screws on each side would be the best way to go, so that’s what we did,” his father said.
After missing spring practice, Womack re-emerged last August still in competition with the then-sophomore Wills for the starting right tackle spot, and even impressed coaches enough that he had early indications the job was his to lose.
But two weeks before the season, four of the six surgically-inserted screws in Womack’s foot broke during a Thursday practice and 24 hours later he experienced his second surgery in six months, where team doctors elected to drill one long screw through the fifth metatarsal to better stabilize the bone.
“Why they didn’t do it the first time, I don’t know, … but … ever since then, his foot’s been fine,” David said. “He’s had no pain, nothing else. And basically, that was it.”
Of course, given its timing and the normal six-week recovery, the second surgery took Womack completely out of the right tackle competition and handed the job to Wills, who shined in the spot, allowing just one sack and one quarterback knockdown in 15 starts last season.
The experience was understandably difficult for Womack, especially after he more than held his own as Alabama’s starting right tackle during the national championship 2017 season.
“I broke my foot and had surgery and then tried to come back and I re-broke it. It was really frustrating for me, but I think it really helped me grow as a person and a football player,” Womack said. “I got to see it from the other side, how things I are. I really tried to have a different role on the team. I could help lift (my teammates) up if they were down, so I thought I could help the team that way.”
Upon his return to action in October, Womack effectively found himself as the team’s sixth lineman, practicing with the first- and second-team line at every position other than center but saw minimal playing opportunities in just seven games last season.
“He took it in stride, it was kind of tough on him at times, because he thought he’d get more playing time,” David said. “But it also lit a fire under him to get back to work, get his mindset to take a (starting) position this year. Everything works out.”
And so far it has, with Womack settling in nicely after making the full-time transition inside to right guard, one made easier by the versatility he acquired last season while working multiple positions along the line as a backup.
“It was really nice, … the coaches they encouraged me all the time to get that versatility, which is good because last year I was ready to go in at any position,” Womack said. “And I feel like it’s really going to help me in the future.”
Whatever the future holds for Womack beyond this season is yet to be seen, but in this moment — as his light-red hair begins to slowly grow back atop his once clean-shaven head — Womack hopes his new look and new position will lead to bigger and brighter things down the line.
“I’m still practicing (some) at tackle, but I really am liking guard a lot and think it’s going to be good for me in the future,” Womack said. “I’m happy where I’m at.”