Rock-Solid In Auburn Lore

FAYETTEVILLE -- His name is etched in stone on the walkway around legendary Toomer's Corner, one of the most recognizable stars of the Tiger Trail, Auburn's version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

His likeness is on one of 10 murals that wrap around the east side of Jordan-Hare Stadium, created as a timeline for Auburn's football history. Then there's his picture on the scoreboard, alongside Tigers greats like coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan, quarterback Pat Sullivan and running back Bo Jackson.

Arkansas defensive line coach Tracy Rocker's brilliant Auburn career, which ran from 1985-88, is illustrated and remembered all around his alma mater.

But the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award winner has never seen any of it.

"I'm not a guy to go around and look for myself," Rocker said. "That's never been what I'm about and that ain't me. I don't have to say, 'Where's my star? Where's this?' My parents get on me about it. They say, 'You ought to go see it. It's something important. It's something you did.' Fine and dandy.

"That's something I did playing ball. I'm at another stage right now."

Rocker's two worlds finally collide after more than 15 years this afternoon where the intense and demanding Arkansas coach is remembered as a tenacious and dominant Auburn defensive tackle.

Rocker hasn't attended a game at Jordan-Hare Stadium since his final one as a player against Georgia in 1988, but he'll be the center of attention before the Hogs and Tigers meet at 2:30. The 38-year-old Rocker will be honored by Auburn and the National Football Foundation during a pregame ceremony for his upcoming induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in December.

Benji Roland said it will be strange to see his former teammate wearing a red and white Arkansas coach's shirt today. But Roland said there's no doubt Rocker will get a nice reception from the Auburn crowd.

"I think any time you come back to your alma mater it's a special thing even though he's going to be wearing different colors," Roland said. "He's going to be honored on the field where he sweat, bled and fought his fanny off for four years.

"Obviously it's a sentimental thing for him. But you'll hear a loud ovation from the fans because they know and remember Tracy Rocker."

'Strong And Quick As A Cat'
The highly recruited Atlanta native was a dominant force who terrorized offenses and led the Tigers to two SEC championships. Rocker was a two-time All-American, the first SEC player to win both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award and the conference's Player of the Year in 1988.

"Rock was as good a defensive lineman as I've ever seen," said former Auburn offensive lineman and current LSU assistant Stacy Searels, who battled Rocker during practices. "He was 6-3, 6-4, 275, strong and quick as a cat. They would put us on the same team for the spring game, but (former Auburn) coach (Pat) Dye would come up and say, 'No, you've got to split these two up.'

"He didn't want the quarterback getting killed!"

Rocker, who was elected to Auburn's Team of the Century in 1992, led all SEC down linemen in tackles as a redshirt freshman in 1985 (93). He finished his career with 354 tackles, 21 sacks and 27 tackles for losses.

Teammates said Rocker had the ability to take over games. He was double-teamed every week, but made bone-jarring hits, knocked down passes and collected 100 tackles, 13 for losses - including 5 sacks -as a senior.

"We saw him take on a double team with one hand," said his brother, David Rocker, who played at Auburn from 1987-1990. "We were trying to figure out how he was doing it, and it was one of the most incredible things. He would use his forearm with one guy and hold onto the other with his hand and still come off and make a tackle.

"It was incredible. That was the type of stuff that sticks out."

Humble Leader
He didn't do it to win awards. Rocker -- and his teammates -- said those were the last things on his mind.

"He didn't seek out to be an All-American," Roland said. "He's not arrogant, but was strong, dedicated and used his talent to put himself in a situation to succeed."

Hard work was Rocker's calling card and he demanded his teammates to follow.

Looking back, Rocker said it's amazing the Tigers made it through Dye's long and difficult practices. He said they were like a page out of the book, "The Junction Boys," which chronicled legendary coach Bear Bryant's first season at Texas A&M.

"We practiced so hard, when game day came it was so easy," Rocker said. "A lot of kids couldn't have done what we did. There were times we couldn't bring recruits to practices. We would lose the recruits once they saw how hard we'd practice."

Roland said Rocker worked equally as hard to shun the spotlight. He didn't want to take away from Auburn's accomplishments. Rocker reaped the rewards, but insisted his teammates were equally deserving.

But David Rocker said his brother's enormous influence was unavoidable.

"He was the type of guy that was a redshirt freshman, but would have the respect of a senior," David Rocker said. "He was what I'd call the Moses of the team. You took his word as law."

That helped Rocker become one of Auburn's best ever. The Tigers' illustrious history includes Jordan, Sullivan and Jackson. But Auburn athletic director David Housel said Rocker's name ranks up with the rest of them.

"You can't compare quarterbacks to defensive linemen," Housel said. "But it is accurate to say no one at Auburn was a better football player at his position than Tracy Rocker.

"Tracy Rocker's name will never be forgotten at Auburn."

Demanding Coach
Now Rocker is trying to instill the same kind of work ethic in his players.

He was drafted by the Washington Redskins and named to the all-rookie team in 1990, but Rocker's NFL career was sacked by bad knees. He returned to Auburn in 1992, finished his degree in Family and Child Development and began coaching as a defensive coordinator at nearby Auburn High.

His resume includes coaching stints at West Alabama (1994-96), Troy State (1997-2001) and Cincinnati (2002). Six of Rocker's defensive linemen signed NFL contracts, including former Bearcats standout Marcus Spriggs.

"I recommended him (at Cincinnati)," said Searels, who was on the Bearcats' staff from 2000 to 2002. "I knew what type of person he was and what type of player he was. He's very demanding, but also very positive.

"We won the conference championship at Cincinnati. He had a lot to do with it."

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt never went against Rocker in a game, but knew he "created havoc" at the line of scrimmage. When defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers left Arkansas' staff to take a job with the Dallas Cowboys after the 2002 season, Nutt gave Rocker a chance to return to his SEC roots.

Day To Remember
Arkansas senior defensive end Jeb Huckeba said Rocker hasn't talked about his homecoming the past two weeks. But the Hogs understand how much a win at Auburn would mean to their coach.

"He means a lot to us as a defensive line," Huckeba said. "We respect him so much. And to be able to go down there and play good and give ourselves a chance to win the game is something that I want to do and I know the other guys want to do."

That would be satisfying enough for Rocker. But there's a little more in store for the attention-ducking coach.

The pregame ceremony was set up after Rocker was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame last spring. He'll be inducted as a Class of 2004 member during an awards dinner on Dec. 7 in New York and will take part in an enshrinement ceremony next August at the Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind.

Housel approached Nutt with the idea of commemorating Rocker's Hall of Fame selection during the annual SEC meetings in Destin, Fla., last spring. But Rocker didn't warm up to the idea because he didn't want to become a distraction.

"It's a thrill. It's a great honor," Rocker said. "But the attention I did not want because the University of Arkansas is playing that day and that, to me, is more important.

"Talking to (Nutt), he's like, 'By no means (are you a distraction). It's something you did and you should do it right. You take your time.'

"That was a burden off my chest right there. So I felt better about that situation."

Said Nutt: "I think he's excited about it. He just doesn't want to be a disruption and he's not. That's what I tried to assure him of. I'm glad he's getting it done."

Rocker has rounded up close to 20 tickets for relatives who still live in the Atlanta area. He doesn't like dealing with that aspect of his homecoming, but understands it comes with the territory.

Whether he likes it or not, Rocker's impact on Auburn football will last forever.

"It's going to be a special day, but that's not what it's about for me," Rocker said. "Does it mean something to me? Yes it means something to me. But I'm not concerned with what is going on with me there. I'm more concerned with what is going on with those guys I'm responsible for and what we do as a team there. I'm going there and I want the University of Arkansas to do well.

"I promise you, that's a lot more important."

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