Sweet Home Alabama

Evan Swindall is an Alabama native, so it's only fitting he'll be receiving the first start of his Ole Miss career against the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa Saturday.

The true freshman center, a greyshirt last season, has been forced into action.

Starter A.J. Hawkins suffered a stinger in his shoulder late in the Rebels' 42-35 win over Kentucky. Even with a bye week to further recuperate, he remains unavailable, having not practiced in more than a week..

"He needs to get in there and play now," junior left tackle Bradley Sowell, the veteran leader of the offensive line, said of Swindall. "He's done pretty well. He's been here for a little while. Once he gets in there and plays, I think he'll be alright."

Swindall is a product of Spain Park High School in Hoover, Ala. He's familiar with many current members of the No. 8 ranked Crimson Tide, including decorated defensive tackle Josh Chapman, who he'll square off against when the teams meet at 8 p.m.

Evan Swindall

But knowing the enemy means nothing once kickoff arrives. Swindall said he's sure to experience the customary butterflies, though he has some playing time under his belt.

Swindall got his feet wet in Hawkins' absence against Kentucky.

"I can just go in there and play and not worry about anything," he said.

Swindall wasn't supposed to play so soon.

Yes, he battled with Hawkins for the starting job at center during spring and preseason practices. But Hawkins was widely considered the leader in the clubhouse to win the title of starter, chiefly due to his experience in the Ole Miss playbook.

But seven weeks into his career, Swindall is being called upon, even if it's out of necessity.

"He's done well. He's really fought and had two good days," offensive line coach Mike Markuson said. "He's eager to play. I'm excited for him. It's his turn. He's young, but sometimes you've got to throw them in the fire. It's just the way it's rolled for us with some of the injuries we've had. He'll go play and we'll see what happens."

Sowell would make the move to center if Swindall where to go down Saturday. Not that he or the coaches want to consider the possibility right now. Ole Miss already lacks depth along its offensive line.

"I can do it," Sowell said. "Just anything to help us out. It's not that hard. It's a little different, but I've done OK (in practice)."

Sowell has tried to help Swindall in any way he can. He can relate to the battle of nerves Swindall will soon face. Sowell earned his first start at left tackle last season as a redshirt sophomore.

"He's gotten a lot of reps against our good defensive line, so I think he'll be ready," Sowell said. "Just like I said, he's got to get in there and play the game.

"He's got to relax, that's for sure. We're about to go play in front of 100,000 people. We haven't played outside in front of that kind of crowd yet, so he needs to relax. He has to be relaxed and get the snap down."

The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Swindall is eager for the opportunity to start. He said this is what he dreamed of when signing with Ole Miss in the recruiting class of 2009. He patiently waited his turn. His time is now.

"As ready as I can be, you know? I've been busting it in practice, trying to get ready," Swindall said. "I'm excited. This is what I've dreamed on doing. (Alabama) has some big, strong, hard guys. They'll sit in the hole, try to read you and separate."

And on how he can possibly prepare for such a talented Alabama front:

"Squat down, get lower than them. That's about it," he said.

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