Thursday, September 29, 2011
South Carolina Preview
Seeing Auburn on the field inside Williams Brice Stadium is always emotional for me. My first and only trip to South Carolina was in 1997, a true freshman, starting at free safety. Early that Friday morning the day before the game, I received word Brian Tribble...a treasured family friend, the announcer of all my high school games, my minister of music, co-worker of my mother, spiritual role model, the man who was to marry Dana and me...was murdered within our very own church office building. I grieved in my dorm room within Sewell hall all morning. I drove with my best friend to tell my future bride the horrific news in the courtyard of the Quad Dorms. The three of us cried for hours.
The last thing on my mind was the South Carolina Gamecocks. I boarded a Delta jet and said a word to no one the entire trip. When we arrived at our hotel I asked and received my own room, skipped the team movie, skipped team dinner. I couldn't get the mental picture of Brian being shot repeatedly in the head inside an office I grew up in, a place my mother worked every day, out of my head. I wept at the thought of Brian's wife, left to raise four young kids, one a newborn, by herself. I didn't study game film, our game plan, their personnel. I cried. All night.
That morning I woke up pissed. I was mad, confused, and lonely. Felt so helpless and far away from home. We boarded the buses and headed to the stadium for an early morning start. I'll never forget that Tiger Walk as long as I live. As I walked through the crowd, I kept my head down, my headset on, and tried to hide the tears in my eyes. As I approached the end of the crowd I looked up to see my parents, the last remaining fans of Tiger Walk. I could tell they had been crying and their tears were contagious. I threw myself into their arms and fell apart.
Coach Oliver didn't bench me. He never even questioned me if I was ready. He only came up to me during warmups and said he loved me, and he was sorry. I played a decent game. Nothing special. South Carolina wasn't great offensively so my job was pretty easy. I do remember though being on the field to start the fourth quarter. The band began playing. The stadium was loud. The Auburn fans were up and shaking their pom-poms. And I visualized Brian watching me from above. I cried the entire drive.
It was the biggest loss of my young life. And the trip to South Carolina will forever be tied to it. To this day I think of Brian on a regular basis. His initials were written on my wristbands beginning the next week to honor his memory and to inspire me to play my heart out. A die-hard Bama fan, he came to see me play two weeks prior in Auburn against Daunte Culpepper and Central Florida. He truly fell in love with his Auburn experience!
On to this game. It has the makings of challenging the scoreboards ability to not explode from over-use. Which typically means it'll be a defensive struggle! Not in this case. I think it becomes a race to 40. First team to 40 wins.
To be successful we have to establish the running game with Mike Dyer. He needs to steal the spotlight from Marcus Lattimore. In order to do that we have to soften the defense with passing efficiency and some semblance of success in QB rushing yards. It can't become a game where we play from behind and in predictable situations or else their defensive line will have their way with us.
Defensively we must tackle. We must take chances. We must swarm to the football and tackle as a unit. Make Lattimore earn every yard he gets. He's a great talent and will have some success as will their receivers. Weather the storms and play the next play. Create turnovers.
We have the ability to win this game. We need to win this game. And we will.