Growing up in Wisner, Phidarian Mathis never dreamed of being a permanent team captain on a national championship football team.
And though the Crimson Tide ultimately fell short of a second straight title — Georgia defeated Alabama, 33-18, Monday night — Mathis hasn't lost sight of where football has taken him.
“As a kid running around Wisner, I didn’t have a clue football could take me this far,” Mathis said. “Now I’ve played in three championship games and three SEC championship games.”
The 6-foot-4, 312-pound Mathis was named one of the Crimson Tide's permanent team captains for the 2021 campaign. He was selected as a second team All-American honoree by the AFCA. He was also tabbed as a Reese's Senior Bowl All-American. Mathis earned All-SEC Second Team recognition from the conference coaches. He contributed in a big way along the defensive front with 46 tackles, totaling 10 tackles for loss (-49 yards) and eight sacks (-46 yards) to rank second on the Tide defense in each category.
Alabama, which won the national championship last year, defeated Georgia, 41-24, for the SEC Championship on Dec. 4.
Alabama defeated Cincinnati, 27-6, in the college football semifinals, while Georgia advanced past Michigan, 34-11.
With all the fame and glory, Mathis has not forgotten where he came from.
“Growing up in Wisner there was not too much to do,” Mathis said. “We would make fun out of whatever we could do — ride bikes, play basketball and football in the fields. We turned everything into fun. It was very lovely growing up in Wisner. It turned me into a young man at an early age.”
Mathis attended Gilbert Junior High. He played football his freshman and sophomore years at Franklin Parish before transferring to Neville High in Monroe.
“I started playing football my pee wee years with the Lil’ Patriots,” Mathis said. “Those coaches helped mold me. That’s where my roots of playing football started, and I learned a lot from them.”
Mathis said transferring to Neville was about giving himself a better opportunity.
“It wasn’t easy, it was much different,” Mathis said. “I had bigger guys like me. The competition was much more upscale. I really learned a lot, and in some ways, it was like learning all over again.”
Mathis played behind Rashard Lawrence, who was part of a national championship at LSU in 2019.
“It was very awesome playing with Rashard,” Mathis said. “He was talked about all over the place. I learned a lot from him, watching him play and listening to him talk about his game. I took a lot of his game and added it to mine.”
Mathis chose Alabama over several other schools, including LSU.
“As a young kid I always wanted to leave Louisiana,” he said. “The first opportunity I had I was going to take. I knew going to Alabama would help get me to the NFL I was anxious to see how far I could go. Last year was amazing winning all of our games and playing with great guys.”
And playing for Nick Saban.
“He is such a great man,” Mathis said. “He wants to see everybody be at their best. He pushes you to your highest limit. I learned so much. He taught me how to be a man.”
Mathis was named to the SEC Community Service Team for his work off the field
“That is most definitely a really proud moment,” Mathis said. “I enjoyed coming back to Wisner, visiting the junior high and talking to the kids and playing basketball with them. I was able to get them backpacks, as well. That meant a lot to me.”
Mathis has a soon-to-be 2-year-old daughter named Khylei Rae.
“She is my heart,” Mathis said.
Mathis said he has plenty of motivation for Monday’s game against Georgia, and doesn’t believe playing the same team again has any kind of advantage for either team.
“It would be so much better to win it this year being my last ride,” Mathis said. “It would be the best one. I didn’t feel like I played my best game against them in the SEC Championship Game. This gives me another chance to prove myself as a great player against a lot of great guys.”