This Auburn team, like every successful team, was built on hard work. The media and fans, though, missed the real story.
This was a team of second chances.
Take a bunch of guys that run fast and hit hard and are strong enough to block out pain and give them the opportunity to play football and get an education. A lot of those guys would have been in school somewhere and doing just fine if they’d never put on pads. Some are in school because of what they can do to impress us on Saturdays and what they do to themselves the rest of the week. They’re able to, perhaps, capitalize on that in their own way. They have skills that allow them to earn an education and make the leap of improving one’s quality of life just a bit easier.
Some of them are probably working their way through school with ease. Others have to work through it more diligently. But, then, they’re used to grinding. This is a chance, after all. That’s what college football is.
Consider some of the players on this team.
You’ve heard Nick Marshall’s story every time Auburn has been on television this year. Second chances.
All of America got a little closer to Jay Prosch if they watched the excellent pregame package on ESPN. He wasn’t recruited locally and made his way to Illinois. The schemes at Auburn changed, he got a waiver from the NCAA and, most importantly of all, got to come home to spend more precious time with his mother. Second chances.
Trovon Reed declared for Auburn on his mother’s birthday, just eight months after she died of cancer. He talked about family. We talk about family. The university markets family. This high school senior had just lost a big chunk of his and, suddenly, he was an Auburn man. What might otherwise happen to an 18-year-old young man in a different circumstance? Second chances.
Think about Chris Davis, who graduated in December. Here’s a young man raised by his mother and grandmother in a tough part of town who never knew his father, killed when he was a baby. The tale of his recruitment is fairly well known; there wasn’t a lot of it. Where would life have taken him without the right phone calls in high school? Once again he was able to show a skillset that, somehow, so often, gets overlooked. Where would he sit without landing on the kick return unit he knew he should be a part of? Second chances.
Remember Shon Coleman. All he did was stoically pancake leukemia. Prime of his athletic life, already a budding star, and a doctor gives him that cruel diagnosis. Did I say stoic? Read the Yahoo! piece. He kept it to himself, shielding even his parents from the hardest parts. Through it all he found, perhaps, a calling to help others. Shon Coleman is taking his own second chance.
Some players are working for their third position coach or coordinator. Three classes have gone through the 3-9 season, an empty stadium, blowouts and the move from Gene Chizik to Gus Malzahn, however those things impact a young football player is something most of us can only analogize.
Much of this team knew Ladarious Phillips and Ed Christian who were killed, and Eric Mack, who was wounded on that terrible night in 2012.
Every man on the team has some story, or has been the shoulder a teammate leaned on during something most of us have difficulty comprehending. Remember that when players and coaches use the word “adversity,” for this team knows it, individually and collectively.
Think about what these guys have endured. Think about what these guys have accomplished, given the chance. Football is easy. Going 12-2, breaking records and hearts and stirring the very center of the souls of Auburn fans and staring down top-ranked Florida State? Not a problem.
At the end of it all, this wasn’t a team of destiny. They aren’t a team of luck. They didn’t succeed on the strength of a gimmick offense. They didn’t get all the right calls. The ball didn’t always bounce their way. Superman wasn’t in the locker room. Chris Davis wasn’t out of bounds.
This was one of the most entertaining teams you’ve ever seen. These are young men who learned to never quit, learned to recognize the opportunities life gives and learned to seize control of those moments for their own. This is a team of second chances, a team of champions.
They’ve proven, time and again now, that they are young men we should never doubt. I am proud and grateful that they gave us the most amazing run we may ever see and some of the greatest sporting joy we will ever feel. I am more proud and most grateful for what they have learned at Auburn.
Thanks and War Eagle. War Eagle forever.
Kenny graduated from Auburn at the turn of the century. He worked in newsrooms across the region and then earned a master’s degree at UAB. He met and married a Yankee, who declared her Auburn allegiance at her first home game. She’s now on the faculty at Auburn. He’s finishing his PhD at Alabama and teaches at Samford University. And he’s an assistant editor at The War Eagle Reader. See him online at www.kennysmith.org and @kennysmith.
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