"The coaches thought I did decent. I've just got to get better, keep working hard."
Defensive Tackles Coach Buddy Wyatt talked about the true freshman. "Dominic did a great job. I'm a little angry at myself that it took so long to put him out there. He had an opportunity, and he took full advantage of it. We were happy.
"There are things he needs to continue to work on, but it was a good start for the young man. I was really impressed with him."
Normally new players are worked into the lineup slowly, but Lee didn't have that luxury. With Ahmad Childress and Jeremy Clark sidelined with injuries, Lee got in far more than spot duty. Rotating with Anthony Bryant and Kyle Tatum, Lee played 51 of Bama's 88 defensive snaps.
Tide Head Coach Mike Shula commented. "I knew Dominic was going to play. But a lot of that was because Arkansas was on the field so long and had so many snaps. His reps went way up."
Lee says he had an edge in preparation. "My teammates told me to just do what I do in practice," Dominic Lee related. "I always say that I go against the best every day. I believe we go against the best (offensive line) in the SEC every day in practice. I do pretty decent against them. You play like you practice, so I try to work hard and give it my all every day in practice.
"It paid off."
True freshmen--especially true freshmen on the defensive line--are not supposed to strong enough to play in the SEC. "I hung in there fairly well," Lee said. "Those guys were very strong, but I held my own. I guess all those workouts from high school and during the summer paid off."
"He's a big kid with a lot of athletic ability," Wyatt said of his true freshman tackle. "When Dominic came in, the first week of two-a-days I knew that we had a pretty good football player. The rest will depend on how hard he works and how hard he studies the game."
Generally rated the state's top defensive lineman last season, Lee earned 6A Lineman of the Year honors. As a senior he turned in 78 tackles and nine sacks. Lee was a second-team USA Today All-America.
As good as Lee was coming in, like every newcomer he had to get ready for the speed of SEC football.
"I adjusted pretty good," Lee said. "Coach Wyatt told me when I first got here that the speed was going to be a big factor. He told me all during two-a-days and even during the season that I had to play faster. ‘Dominic, you need to play faster.' I knew coming into the game that I would have to play fast, be physical."
Wyatt said the excellent coaching Lee received at Huffman High School helped. "Dominic played at a good high school program," Wyatt said. "That's allowed him to grow up and mature a little bit faster than some kids that didn't have the good fortune play at a good high school program. He arrived disciplined. He was well coached."
Obviously talent and coaching are important. But Wyatt points to something else as giving Lee his edge.
"He's big and strong and he has athletic ability, but Dominic has a good feel for the game," Wyatt said. "He has a feel for playing the position. He knows how to react to certain blocks. He using his hands better. We've worked a lot with him on using his hands, and he's doing a better job."
Lee had prepared to play each week this season, but had to watch from the sideline during Bama's first three games.
"Coach told me Wednesday during meetings that I was going to get to play," Lee recalled. "I had a pretty good week of practice. He felt confident. He felt good about playing me. He thought I was ready."
Did the news make him nervous? "It really didn't change," Lee replied. "I just had to stay focused, work hard and get myself ready for Saturday."
Childress and Clark are expected to return this week, giving Wyatt the defensive tackle rotation he's waited for. But Shula says that injuries--and hopefully players stepping up to fill the gaps--are just part of football.
"All the young guys that played Saturday actually graded out okay," Shula said. "We need to have that. We don't need to have our defense on the field that long. But if they are we need to have other guys ready to play."