ORLANDO, Fla. – “Iron sharpens iron.” 

“Practice makes perfect.” 

You’ve heard such slogans for years in the world of sports. Two members of the 2019 Alabama football team who arrived on campus at the same time three years ago would agree with such statements because receiver DeVonta Smith and safety Xavier McKinney have allowed competition on the practice field to make each other better players. 

Both juniors said as much when they spoke to the media Sunday three days before the Crimson Tide takes on Michigan in the Citrus Bowl (Wednesday, noon CT, ABC).

Smith said he can count on McKinney’s best when they go against one another on the practice field. 

“Just knowing that you have the other side being just as competitive as you,” Smith said. “He's a perfectionist, so like he always wants things to be perfect. And I know that if I'm going out to practice, I know he's going to match my intensity every day. So just going out there, having that just makes both of us better.”

McKinney feels the same way. 

“Oh, man. It's tough," the Roswell, Ga. native said. "You know, (Smith’s) one of those guys that makes you better. The first time I came against him, like, when we first came in, we didn't really go against each other that much, but during the past two years, I've had a chance to go one-on-ones against him when we're doing two-and-two drills. It's tough. It's hard to guard him. 

"He's a guy that can run. He's physical. He doesn’t look, you know, super physical because he not really a big guy, but he's definitely a guy that's very physical. He's not really afraid of anybody and he definitely makes sure he competes every time, so he's one of those guys that's tough to guard either way it goes. So I try to do my best.

“And I know every time I go against him, I try to give him my best shot because I know he makes me better every time, so it's definitely fun going against him because I know if you're competing against him, I know that he's going to make me better.”

Iron indeed does sharpen iron.

Smith attributes the success of the highly successful 2019 Alabama receiver group to the competitors in the room.

“Just how, one, the passion that we have for it and just the will to want to go out there and dominate,” Smith said. “Just we're out there. We're going to try and just play, not only for us but for everybody. So just like we always try to be we're one of the smaller receiver groups and we always try to be physical and try to play bigger than what we are. So I just feel like just the will to want to do it”

Added offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian: “I think these guys (in the receiver group) have an extremely high football IQ. Not only are they physically gifted, not only are they really great competitors, they're tough, their football IQ is really high. And as a coach, that makes it enjoyable to coach them because you can put different things on them. You can move them around. You can coach conceptually rather than just one person, ‘This is what you do on this play.’ And these guys eat it up.

“It starts with guys like ‘Smitty’ and (Henry) Ruggs and Jerry (Jeudy), but it works its way down throughout the entire group with (Jaylen) Waddle, (Tyrell) Shavers, Slade Bolden, (John) Metchie, you know, ‘Ziggy’ (Xavier Williams). All these guys have started to embrace this, it's bigger than just me releasing at the line of scrimmage. It's big picture. It's scheme. And that makes it fun for us to coach.”