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The Storied History of Auburn’s True Freshman Quarterbacks (Both of Them)

Gabe Gross—Auburn's first true freshman quarterback of the modern era.

The field for the 2011 running of the annual Auburn Quarterback Derby is officially set. The race to determine who will line up behind center on September 3 will soon resume. Sophomore Clint Moseley and Junior Barrett Trotter will pick up where they left off in the spring, joined this time by highly touted true freshman Kiehl Frazier. Fun times.

Despite limited game experience, Moseley or Trotter has to be considered the favorite to land the starting job in the fall after spending the past few years shadowing Gus Malzahn. Frazier ran a similar offensive system at Shiloh Christian High School in Springdale, Arkansas and was basically recruited by Malzahn out of the womb (Dye-style), but there is no substitute for working directly with the man who calls the Tigers’ plays.

Still, the opportunity is there for Frazier, a three time state champion and the 2010 USA Today High School Offensive Player of the Year, to do what Jason Campbell, Dameyune Craig, Stan White and other Tiger greats did not do: avoid a redshirt his first season on The Plains.  Should Frazier overtake one or both of his more experienced teammates he would become just the third true freshman quarterback to see significant playing time at Auburn in the modern era (1981-present).  Even if he fails to claim one of the top two spots, there is still the possibility he could be featured in special packages designed to utilize his dual pass/run skills (he passed for 2,975 yards and 42 touchdowns and ran for 1,164 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior in high school) and give him game experience leading into next year.

Speaking of next year, 2012 should also see the arrival of another highly regarded high school quarterback in Zeke Pike out of Kentucky.  Assuming his current commitment holds (and he has given no indications that it will not), it might be in the coaches’ plans to create a little separation between he and Frazier by playing the latter and redshirting the former.  That is not to say that Gene Chizik and his staff would throw away a year of eligibility on an unprepared Frazier, but it may be a consideration if his performance matches his pedigree.

It’s impossible to predict how Frazier might respond to immediate playing time based solely off of his predecessors, of course, but given that it’s June and we need an excuse to think about college football, here’s a quick look at how the previous redshirt-less quarterbacks faired in their rookie year on the plains.

Gabe Gross (1998):

A poor start to the 1998 season saw future Major League Baseball player Gabe Gross ascend to the starting lineup as a true freshman… but the team finished the year 3-8 and short one head coach (not intended as a Terry Bowden short joke. Okay, it was).  Gross played in nine games that year and finished 88/197 for 1222 yards with seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions.  Not terrible numbers for a baseball player, but not up to the level of play of previous Auburn signal callers (though the team’s struggles that year can hardly be put on him alone). A resurgent Ben Leard led to Gross focusing all of his attention on baseball early in the 1999 season.

Kodi Burns (2007):

The next true freshman to take a snap from under center was Kodi Burns nine years later. Burns, like Frazier, was another hotly recruited quarterback out of Arkansas and thrown into the fire early in 2007 after the team struggled in a win against Kansas State and lost in overtime to South Florida at home.  The offense continued to struggle moving the ball in the team’s third game against Mississippi State and Burns was inserted to add a spark, primarily running the football.  The team went on to lose that game, but regrouped and finished the season a respectable 9-4 with Burns starting one game and splitting time with starter Brandon Cox in eight others.  He finished the season with modest numbers (10/26 for 145 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and 203 yards rushing with three TDs), but scored the game winning touchdown on a run in overtime against Clemson in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.  The athletic but extremely raw Burns failed to develop his talents as projected in 2008, which some attributed to the lost redshirt year and constant shuffling in and out of the lineup, and split time with Chris Todd, new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s hand-picked junior college transfer.  After failing to reclaim the starting gig from Todd prior to the 2009 season, he moved to wide receiver where he became a fan favorite for his unselfish attitude and leadership.  Burns capped off his career with a touchdown catch in the BCS National Championship Game and, following the season, was selected by his teammates to present President Barack Obama with a No. 1 Auburn jersey at a ceremony honoring the team at the White House.

And that’s it.  That’s the list of true freshman quarterbacks who have seen more than a token appearance on the field in the last 30 years of Auburn football. Not much of a precedent on the plains for going straight from high school to the SEC. But Frazier will be given every opportunity this fall to add his name to that list.

Riley Downing graduated from Auburn in 1999 and moved to the Washington, D.C. area, where he has been stuck ever since. He makes the most of his long daily commute and forfeits sleep in an attempt to keep up with everything Auburn and cling to his brief moment on The Plains. Follow him on Twitter—@FearlessandTrue.

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