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After a good 2017 season, Alabama lineman Matt Womack, shown vs. Florida State in the 2017 opener, is trying to come back from an injury-filled 2018 season. He's been moved to right guard, a position the senior said suits his style of play. [DEANGELO MCDANIEL/DECATUR DAILY]

TUSCALOOSA — Matt Womack wanted a bit of a change coming into his final preseason at Alabama.

So, four years after arriving to school with a wavy mop-top of red hair that came down to his collar, the redshirt senior offensive lineman decided to go with a much cleaner look — like Mr. Clean. 

Before the start of camp, Womack had his father shave his head, much to his mother’s chagrin.

“His momma really didn’t want it shaved, but I did it (anyways),” his father, David Womack, said by phone Tuesday morning.

For Womack, it was an opportunity for a fresh start and a practical way to avoid the August heat.

“I don’t know, new year, new me,” Womack said with a smile. “Camp’s hot so I figured I might as well go for it. I used to have long hair and figured I might as well go for the short hair.”

The new-look Womack, listed at 6-foot-7 and 325 pounds, is one of Alabama’s most powerful run blockers. He continues to get significant reps as the starting right guard during  preseason camp.

While nothing is final, Womack’s blocking and leadership are a welcomed addition to a first-team offensive line that lost three of its five starters from a year ago. Only rising juniors Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills Jr. — who started all 15 games last season at right guard and right tackle, respectively — return. Leatherwood has moved to his more natural left tackle spot, creating a big opportunity for Womack at right guard.

“Matt’s a mauler when it comes to running the football, so I think it’s going to be a good fit for him, and he likes the position,” David said. “(Of course), Matt’s a team-player, he’ll play anywhere.”

Womack’s taken advantage of the opportunity, knowing how quickly it can be taken away — especially after his troubles in 2018.

Womack originally cracked the fifth metatarsal — the long bone on the edge of the foot that connects to the pinkie toe — in his left foot after landing awkwardly during a box jump exercise in February 2018.

The injury worsened when walking down a flight of stairs during a spring break trip and he had surgery that cost him all of spring practice. 

“The doctor talked to us about it and he thought a plate with three screws on each side would be the best way to go, so that’s what we did,” his father said.

Ttwo weeks before the season, four of the six surgically-inserted screws in Womack’s foot broke during a Thursday practice and 24 hours later he experienced his second surgery, where team doctors elected to drill one long screw through the fifth metatarsal to better stabilize the bone.

“Why they didn’t do it the first time, I don’t know, … but … ever since then, his foot’s been fine,” David said. “He’s had no pain, nothing else. And basically, that was it.”

Given its timing and a six-week recovery, the second surgery took Womack out of the right tackle competition and handed the job to Wills, who shined in the spot, allowing just one sack and one quarterback knockdown in 15 starts.

The experience was difficult for Womack, especially after he more than held his own as Alabama’s starting right tackle during the national championship 2017 season.

“It was really frustrating for me, but I think it really helped me grow as a person and a football player,” Womack said. “I got to see it from the other side, how things I are. I really tried to have a different role on the team. I could help lift (my teammates) up if they were down, so I thought I could help the team that way.”

When he returned in October, Womack was the team’s sixth lineman, practicing with the first- and second-team line at every position other than center but saw minimal playing opportunities in just seven games last season.

“He took it in stride, it was kind of tough on him at times, because he thought he’d get more playing time,” David said. “But it also lit a fire under him to get back to work, get his mind set to take a (starting) position this year. Everything works out.”

And so far it has, with Womack settling in nicely after making the full-time transition inside to right guard, one made easier by the versatility he acquired while working multiple positions as a backup.

“It was really nice, … the coaches they encouraged me all the time to get that versatility, which is good because last year I was ready to go in at any position,” Womack said. “And I feel like it’s really going to help me in the future.”

Womack hopes his new look and new position will lead to betterr things down the line.

“I’m still practicing (some) at tackle, but I really am liking guard a lot and think it’s going to be good for me in the future,” Womack said. “I’m happy where I’m at.”

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