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December 30, 2013
Storybook senior class
The first day of spring training heading into my senior season I decided to keep a journal. I did so for many reasons.
The opportunity to capture my true thoughts and feelings at that moment, to have a permanent and accurate record of my final season as an Auburn Tiger was the main motivating factor. My time at Auburn had truly been a roller coaster ride and I knew the average person had no clue what football players endure on a daily basis for the privilege to wear the uniform.
Two losing seasons, two head coaches, two SEC title game appearances, two coordinators, four positions, three position coaches, the arrival of then strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall all marked my time at Auburn. At the time I thought no group would ever come through Auburn and experience that level of disproportionate, success, failure, challenge, disorder, revolution.
I was sorely mistaken.
This senior class tops every Auburn senior class preceding it in regards to disparate, contrasting teams and identities, in regards to moments of Auburn greatness and moments of Auburn disgust. This group has climbed the nearly impossible-to-reach summit to two national title games. They have been champions of the greatest conference in college football twice. They have also wallowed around in the valley-hell far beneath the valley in the well of hopelessness and humiliation. They factored into the most disgraceful, most abhorrent Auburn football team in Auburn's long history.
I thought I had tasted success with two SEC title game appearances as bookends to my Auburn career. This group has two SEC championship rings. This group has a national title trophy and another they will compete for. I thought I had seen the low point of Auburn football at 3-8 in 1998 as our head coach departed at mid-season. Then this group made us long for the days of a 1998 competitive drive. They were members of a team that was unwatchable in 2012.
It makes where Auburn sits as a program all the sweeter, all the more enjoyable, all the more humble. Having been at rock bottom but one year ago to finding themselves in the final BCS national title game, I think most about this group of seniors and what that journey has been like.
One of them should write the story. One of these young men should sit down at a keyboard and tell the story of being the only Auburn football players in the long history and tradition of Auburn football to play for and perhaps win two national titles. Tell the story of what happened to make these guys fall apart in 2012. What happened in Ryan Russell's weight room to develop a team that gets hungrier as the game goes on. How did Gus Malzahn make this group of young men believe again? What did he say, what did he expect, what did you find out about yourself along the way?
It would be a compelling read because the storyline is unfathomable. As incredible as the X's and O's of what Malzahn has accomplished this season with a former defensive back playing quarterback and annihilating "stellar" defenses with but a handful of basic plays, it's the mentality and desire, the will and effort to battle every challenger that leaves me scratching my head. How did that happen? Where did that come from? Who were the guys behind the scenes in the locker room serving as the glue to hold it all together?
To be honest, it's still unbelievable. I pegged this Auburn team as a maximum eight win unit - most did. The players sure didn't. To be sitting here one week away from a chance to be crowned national champions after the misery Auburn endured last year is beyond stunning.
When I was preparing to play my last football game - the 2001 Florida Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day - I found myself thinking about a lot of people. I thought of my parents and the sacrifices they had made to attend every game I ever played. I thought of my wife and the sacrifices she made to see so little of me due to my job as a football player. I thought of my high school teammates and felt as if I represented each of them each time I walked out onto the playing surface. I thought of all the effort, the running, the weights, the game plans, the film study, the games we should have won, the plays I wish I could have done over.
I thought of all the memorable sights and sounds, the Tiger Walks into places like Death Valley, Tuscaloosa and Athens. The nights we walked off the field winners when only we believed it possible, the faces of Auburn people after Iron Bowl wins, the vision of shakers beating in unison. I knew my time would come to an end and the night before my last game it hit me - this was it. My last time to represent my school. My last time to wear the orange and blue.
That stage was second-rate to the stage this group will go out on. This group of seniors has tasted what only an infinitely small few can taste in their careers as national champions. They have the opportunity to do it twice which will put them among college football's elite. They have to be tempered and humbled by the middle of their careers, the embarrassment and dishonor of last season. They are part of the 2010 class that's seen 12 players not finish where they signed. For Nosa Eguae and Dee Ford, it's even more special. They are wrapping up five-year careers on the Plains, part of the transition into the Gene Chizik era in 2009.
So, congratulations go out to Kenneth CarterJake Holland, Chris Davis, Craig Sanders, Ryan White, Ryan Smith, Ford, Steven Clark, Jay Prosch, Cody Parkey, Jake Lembke, and Eguae. I had many a memorable game and vision I'll never forget and cherish during my own college football playing days. This group of men however have endured through the ultimate highs and the ultimate lows.
Their journey is memorable, but not yet complete.