When Angelo Blackson arrived to Auburn last summer from Red Lion Christian Academy in Delaware, he was an unknown product.
Blackson played against private school competition and actually grew up playing basketball. Auburn was his first big-time offer and Blackson committed early and ultimately signed with the Tigers. So when he arrived on campus, he felt like he had something to prove.
"I don't think anybody looked down on me because I was from Delaware, but I still had that competitive edge," Blackson said. "Nobody knew about Delaware when I came in. I think it was a great thing for me because it gave me time and space to prove good players come from anywhere."
Blackson played sparingly as a freshman in 2011, notching six total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He played last season at 330-pounds, but enters spring practice at a slimmer 315-pounds. With a season of learning in the best conference in America under his belt, Blackson feels much more comfortable and ready to compete this spring than any point last fall.
"I was able to play in a lot of games last year, I was able to get experience and that makes a big difference," said Blackson. "I know what to expect, it's going to be a lot more tougher, and I'm able to prepare myself better."
Learning that practice preparation that simulates game-play is the best way to prepare for Saturday's in the SEC has helped Blackson immensely. Now, Blackson has a tremendous opportunity this spring to improve his game further.
With Kenneth Carter already sitting out, and now Gabe Wright out for the spring with a foot injury, Blackson is eagerly anticipating his increased repetitions in the coming weeks.
"I think for them being out, we're getting as many reps as we can get," said Blackson. "More repetitions for us gives us an advantage."
Blackson and the rest of his defensive line teammates are learning a new system under new coordinator Brian VanGorder that focuses less on "gap fit", and more on attacking the line of scrimmage. Blackson believes less thinking and more playing on the other side of the ball will pay dividends next fall.
"Coach VanGorder places an emphasis on not being much of a thinker, not being robotic," said Blackson. "Last year the games where coach Roof said come off the ball and hit, is the games we really showed up against South Carolina and Florida. This defense isn't so much thinking, just coming off the ball man on man."
Monday marked the first day of full pads for the Tigers as Blackson juggles playing fast and physical, with learning a new defense and abiding by VanGorder's philosophy of less thinking and more doing. While encouraged, Blackson recognizes both his potential and the journey that it will take to become an impact player for Auburn.
"I'm faster, stronger in the weight room," said Blackson. "I feel like I improved my game, but I still have a long way to go."