Britt broke his leg early in the first quarter versus Tennessee. As Bama's designated "sixth man" on the offensive line, Herrion immediately stepped forward to play.
"You knew if Wesley Britt was laying on the field then something has got to be seriously wrong," Atlas Herrion said. "He always hops back up and does whatever he has to do to get back in there. To see Wesley sit up and get the crowd into it, then tell us that he was coming back, that made you want to fight harder."
Both bones in his lower leg snapped in two, but ignoring the pain Britt had a message for his teammates. Herrion recalled, "He told us, ‘Just do your job. Don't worry about me. Just go play like you know how to play.'"
It was an emotional moment for everyone involved, but Herrion knew he had to concentrate on the job at hand.
"Anytime you see a player like that--a warrior--laying on a stretcher going off the field and getting the crowd into it, you want to go out there and give everything you've got," Herrion said. "But you had to put that aside. Don't worry about what everybody else is saying. Don't worry about Wesley, because he'll be back."
Alabama Offensive Coordinator David Rader would naturally prefer to have Britt in the lineup. "You want your best players playing," Rader said Tuesday. But he also said that Alabama will be well-served by fifth-year senior Atlas Herrion. Herrion, the 6-4, 286-pounder from Daphne, has played both tackle spots this year, primarily as a back-up to Evan Mathis at right tackle. When Britt went out in the early going against Tennessee, Herrion stepped in and went the rest of the way.
Later in the game, right guard Dennis Alexander limped off with a sprained ankle. Junior Danny Martz replaced him, shuffling Bama's O-Line even more. "It's not too bad," Herrion said. "We rotate a lot in practice just like we did against Tennessee. As a unit you've just got to get on one page and go. It paid off."
For Bama's final four games Herrion will have left tackle all to himself.
"The coaches always tell us that we're one play away," Herrion said. "I tried to prepare myself every day to be the starter. Now I am the starter. There isn't any mindset change for me. I've just got to do my job day in and day out. Help my team as much as I can."
Rader said, "We have to run the ball and we have to protect Brodie (quarterback Brodie Croyle). We have to take our full game to Starkville. We're going to miss Wesley. But Atlas has to have the mindset that we can run behind him and that he can protect Brodie."
With Herrion starting, Bama must now rely on other players to provide backup minutes. "We've got a lot of guys that can step up," Herrion said. "We've got Matt Lomax and Danny Martz. Von Ewing and Mark Sanders--the young guys have to step up. We're not worried about tomorrow. Every day just keep plugging."
Martz will backup both guard positions, and Lomax has worked extensively at center. But who would play tackle if called on?
"I think it would be Lomax," Herrion replied. "Last year he played guard and tackle. He's a fit anywhere. He can play all the positions just like I can. He just hasn't been working at them as much as I have."
Bama's five-overtime loss to Tennessee was a heartbreaker, but Herrion says the team has to move on. "It felt like a sledgehammer hitting you in the chest. This is my last year, my last time getting to play in that rivalry. It was an empty feeling. It's been a long season.
"But once that film is finished (on Sunday), you've got to get over it. You know you've got more games coming. This week against Mississippi State is just like the rest of them."
Herrion is determined to do everything he can to turn the season around. "Atlas has been very valuable," Rader said. "He is a guy we know could play any of the five positions on the offensive line.
"Atlas is an abacus. You can count on him."