WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Patrick Surtain II is headed home.
Alabama's All-America cornerback and former American Heritage School star will play for a national championship next week in front of family and friends at Hard Rock Stadium, just a short drive north on Florida's Turnpike from his hometown of Plantation.
"It's pretty exciting, you know, to play back at home," Surtain told reporters Monday, one week before the top-ranked Crimson Tide face No. 3 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship in South Florida. "But it doesn't matter where we play at. We've still got to play 60 minutes of the football game and focus on what we need to do and control what we need to control."
For Surtain, that means shutting down Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, who completed 22 of 28 passes for 385 yards and a Sugar Bowl-record six touchdowns in a 49-28 win against No. 2 Clemson.
"While it was an emotional win, that wasn't the goal," Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said of his team's performance in the College Football Playoff semifinal. "The goal was to win this one, and so I'd be disappointed if we didn't play well in this game. This is everything on the line, everything we wanted, and so now all the focus goes on to Alabama. We've just got to prepare.
The most prepared team is going to win the game, and we have to prepare like we did the week before. The good news is I think we have a little confidence going into the game that we've shown what we can do, and now we've got to go do it again."
To do it, the Buckeyes will have to take down an Alabama squad loaded with arguably the nation's best quarterback (Heisman Trophy finalist and Florida native Mac Jones), running back (Najee Harris), wide receiver (Heisman and Biletnikoff Award finalist DeVonta Smith), center (Landon Dickerson, who transferred from Florida State in 2019) and offensive tackle (Florida native Alex Leatherwood). Along with Surtain, the aforementioned players were named first-team All-Americans by The Associated Press -- the most of any team in the country.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban will be vying for his sixth national championship at the school since 2009. Including his 2003 national championship at LSU, he is currently tied with Alabama legend Bear Bryant for the most in the modern era. A win next Monday night would solidify Saban as the most successful major college football coach in history.
Saban said the Buckeyes pose a significant challenge, "but these are the kind of games, if you're a competitor, you really look forward to playing in, and this is a great opportunity for our players to compete against a great team."
This will be Surtain's second trip to South Florida with the Tide. Alabama defeated Oklahoma 45-34 in the 2018 Orange Bowl semifinal to advance to the national championship game -- a losing effort to Clemson.
That would make winning at Hard Rock Stadium a fitting finish to Surtain's season -- and possibly college career. Surtain, who has yet to declare for the NFL Draft, is projected to be one of the top defensive backs selected if he leaves school early.
The 6-foot-2, 202-pound junior said he's looking forward to play in front of friends and family, including his father, former NFL cornerback Patrick Surtain.
Surtain Sr. was a Pro Bowl cornerback who spent seven of his 11 NFL seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
"It's going to be a tremendous feeling having them come and support me back at home," Surtain Jr. said. "It will be a great feeling. I've just got to show out and make them happy, make them proud, you know."
While Surtain is certainly excited to be playing on the biggest stage in a stadium he knows quite well, he's also aware the spotlight will be on him -- not just for his performance, but as a totem for South Florida's homegrown talent.
Under Saban, Alabama has frequently recruited and plundered talent from tradition-rich South Florida. Of the 17 Florida players on the current roster, seven hail from the tri-county area.
Surtain has a message for South Florida's future college football stars.
"I'd just say work hard," he said. "South Florida, there's talent everywhere. Your name will get called and you will be on a bright stage like this, so just keep working and keep striving to perfection."