Top-10 foes are set to face off once again on Saturday in the SEC championship game when No. 8 Alabama (11-1) and No. 1 Georgia (12-0) meet in Atlanta at 4 p.m. ET.
This will be the third time in the last six years the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs will meet in the championship game, and the 10th consecutive year at least one of them has played for the SEC title. Usually there are significant College Football Playoff implications, and Saturday will be no different.
Among the many stars who will dot the field in Atlanta, Alabama starting defensive tackle Tim Keenan III may not be the first player who comes to mind. Yet, no one on either sideline questions his impact on the outcome.
The 6-foot-2, 315-pound redshirt sophomore has tallied 35 combined tackles, one sack and one pass deflection so far in 2023, and he’s busy occupying pass blockers and plugging running lanes every game. His presence inside is a crucial factor in Alabama’s defense being ranked No. 14 nationally in points allowed per game at 17.9, which is second in the SEC only to Georgia (15.8).
“[Keenan has] played really well, been very productive, smart, very dependable,” Saban said in October, according to TDAlabamaMag.com. “You can always count on him to do his job. He works hard, he gives great effort.”
Tim Keenan III wants to leave his mark on 2023 Iron Bowl pic.twitter.com/GIbdmZuLGv
— Touchdown Alabama (@TDAlabamaMag) November 21, 2023
Three of his tackles came last Saturday against arch-rival Auburn in the Iron Bowl, which Alabama won, 27-24, in miraculous fashion.
Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, as a fan of the Crimson Tide, Keenan dreamed of playing for Alabama against Auburn. However, Alabama lost the first Iron Bowl that Keenan attended in 2010. On Saturday, he got his revenge.
“I was trying to have some bragging rights being a kid and I was disappointed,” Keenan said ahead of this year’s rivalry game. “But God gave me another chance to make it right.”
The entire 2023 season has been a breakout of sorts for Keenan, who redshirted his first year in Tuscaloosa and saw nothing but mop-up duty in his second. After Alabama’s Sugar Bowl victory on Jan. 1, Keenan sat in his locker and reflected on his lack of playing time. The problem was clear: his weight. He had arrived at Alabama at 380 pounds and was still 343 at the time. To have a chance to play meant he had to get into better shape.
It was a task that Keenan approached by faith in God.
“I’m just thinking to myself, ‘Man, enough is enough. It’s time for me to really play. I know what I can do, and I know what’s holding me back,'” Keenan told BamaCentral this month. “… I decided I was going to take my life back, but this time, I was going to do it with God.”
Keenan began reading God’s Word, praying more consistently than ever, and listening to Gospel music before workouts. He even started a team Bible study.
Investing in his improvement has paid off supremely well for Keenan, both on the field and in his relationship with God. He’s an irreplaceable piece on a national-title-contending team and on one of the best defenses in America. More importantly, he’s seen God graciously at work in his life.
“There’s some things that God knows that if it weren’t for Him, I wouldn’t be here,” Keenan told BamaCentral. “I see what He’s done for me, and how He’s had His hand on me. … I always make it an effort to be a verb and not verbal — basically be a man of action and not just tell you a bunch of stuff. I just try to be an example and do as I do, not do as I say.”
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Keenan describes himself as “God’s messenger” and quotes the Bible verse Genesis 9:17 in his Instagram bio. His eagerness to share about his faith on social media, or anywhere else, stems from God’s faithfulness, which Keenan has seen through the loss of his grandmother and uncle, and in his dad’s cancer diagnosis 12 years ago.
Each snap he plays, Keenan says, is a testament to God’s grace to him. There’s never a hesitation in him seeking to bring glory to God through football.
“I just try to work as hard as possible to honor God,” Keenan said, “and to show Him how thankful I am with my play.”
When Keenan lines up across from Georgia’s offensive line on Saturday, he knows he’s playing ultimately for the only One worthy of all praise.
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