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June 3, 2005When the Alabama All-Stars take the field Saturday night they will be led by six Auburn signees that have distinguished themselves during practices this week. All six were highly recruited prospects and it's clear to All-Star head coach Bob Newton that the Auburn coaching staff did their homework recruiting the talented group.
"I think Auburn has a good eye," said Newton. "They are good players. They really are. They play hard and they are great kids."
The future Auburn players on the roster include defensive end Antonio Coleman, noseguard Sen'Derrick Marks, linebacker Rex Sharpe, cornerback Jerraud Powers, wide receiver Montez Billings and tight end Gabe McKenzie.
Sharpe can't say enough good things about his future college teammates.
"They are just pure athletes," said Sharpe. "They can run, jump and tackle. All of them are great."
Perhaps the most impressive of the group has been defensive end Coleman who earned continual praise throughout the week. Coleman distinguished himself with a quick burst off the line and a dogged determination to reach the ball carrier or sack the quarterback.
McKenzie has had to go 1-on-1 against Coleman several times during drills and grudgingly admits he ended up getting beat a couple of times.
"I guess you could say he beat me a couple of times," said a smiling McKenzie. "But I got him too."
Although listed as a tight end. McKenzie will line up mainly at wide receiver Saturday. He'll be used strictly as a tight end at Auburn where he will play behind senior Cooper Wallace this fall.
"This year might be a year to watch and learn from Cooper Wallace but next year should be my year," said McKenzie.
Whether they play as true freshmen or redshirt, all six Auburn signees vow to keep Auburn on the winning track. The bar was set high last year as the Tigers went 13-0 and won the SEC Championship.
"We are trying to keep the streak going," said Powers. "We don't want to lose. We just want to go up there and make a name for ourselves and blend in with the team."
All six are scheduled to report on June 12. All but Sharpe is expected to be a full qualifier.
Auburn will be getting more than just great football players according to Newton.
"Sometimes you go to these things and they are prima donnas and have never had to share the limelight," he said. "But this (Auburn) bunch has really done well. Everything we've asked them to do they've done to the best of their ability. They've been fun to coach."
The six Auburn signees are the most for one team on the Alabama squad. The Tigers could have had as many as eight if tight ends Tommy Trott and Andrew McCain hadn't elected to get an early start on the Plains.
Mississippi State has two signees on the Alabama squad and nine on the Mississippi squad for a total of 11 in Saturday night's contest.
Big and Burly
A lot of talk this week has centered on the size advantage of the Mississippi squad. With guys on the offensive line like Calvin Wilson (6-6, 330), Craig Jenkins (6-5, 340), Patrick Swoopes (6-5, 315) and tight end John Jerry (6-5, 330), Mississippi will tower over the Alabama defensive line.
On the other side of the ball, Jerry, Jerrell Powe (6-3, 350), James Bowman (6-1, 305), Louis Ellis (6-3, 290) and Willie Pritchett (6-8, 280) are a formidable defensive line.
Even quarterback Jimmy Johns (6-3, 228) is large.
Newton has heard the talk of Mississippi running over Alabama Saturday night and is ready for the challenge.
"If they do it fine, but let's see if we can stop them from doing it," said Newton. "They are big. But our guys are pretty excited about that challenge. Our defense is pretty excited about facing some tough, big, hard-nosed football players."
According to defensive coordinator Bill Clark, the big Mississippi offense can be stopped by a swarming Alabama defense. It's the same strategy used by an undersized Auburn defense last fall.
"We've heard how big and athletic those guys are. We've seen them in person and they are even bigger than we've heard," said Clark. "But our guys are athletic and I think they are going to run to the ball well. Hopefully, we will get off blocks and tackle well. I think it will be a good matchup."
The All-Star Classic kicks off at 7:00 p.m. at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The Classic has been dropped by Fox Sports Net and will only be available on an internet radio broadcast provided by AHSAA.
GIVE AUBURNSPORTS.COM A TRY: If you enjoyed this feature story from the Alabama All-Star practice, click here to take advantage of AuburnSports.com's 7-Day Free Trial and get all the INSIDE SCOOP on Auburn football, basketball, baseball and recruiting from our staff of experts Bryan Matthews and Jeffrey Lee.
Once you've signed up, check out our blowout coverage from All-Star practices this week:
McKenzie, all-stars learning spread offense
Coleman a true star among the All-Stars
All-Star photo gallery - May 31
Alabama All-Stars counting on McKenzie
Shutdown corners for Alabama defense
All-Star photo gallery - June 1
Offense stepping up for Alabama All-Stars
Ranking the Top 10 Alabama All-Stars
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