A Football Walk-on To Watch

In the first of a series of profiles on Auburn athletes, the "rest of the story" is featured on this walk-on's emergence as potential key contributor for the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--After spending two years trying to impress the offensive coaches enough to earn playing time at wide receiver, redshirt sophomore Andrew Letts decided to take a new approach for his third season as an Auburn football player.

The six-foot-one, 195-pound walk-on asked if he could go back into his comfort zone as a safety, the position he played in high school. He made the move to defense to start with spring training in March and steadily improved as a defender. By the time the Tigers wrapped up spring workouts with their annual A-Day game, Letts had made an impression on the man who counts the most, secondary coach and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.

"I was really encouraged by his performance the last week of practice," Chizik tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I think the first couple of weeks he was trying to feel his way around the defense. Not only is it tough to learn to learn a new position, but to learn a new position in a new defense is doubly tough. I was very impressed with some things that he did at the end. I thought he was active. I thought he was a tough, hard-nosed football player. He has got a chance--for sure."

Andrew Letts

Chizik also makes it clear that as long as he is in charge the best man plays whether or not he is a little known walk-on from a thousand miles away or a high-profile player from Auburn's traditional recruiting base. That kind of talk is music to a walk-on's ears.

"Coach Chizik has been a huge motivation for me," Letts says. "Since I moved over to defense, he has been nothing but encouraging, giving me advice and helping me out. That is good to hear when he says stuff like that about not caring where I am from and that I am a walk-on. If I show him I can play he is going to give me an opportunity so I am really thankful. It is awesome to play for a coach like him. He is very motivating. All the coaches on defense are great."

Letts, who will turn 22-years-old this October, was immediately noticeable as a much more talented player than the average walk-on when he joined the team in 2001. Despite being redshirted, he showed promise as a wide receiver although he was redshirted that year.

The Illinois native had originally been recruited to attend and play football for the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. However, before he was able to enroll at Army, he needed some additional classwork and did that at the U.S. Military Prep School in Virginia. He played at the prep school during the 2000 football season, but had a change of mind on his collegiate destination.

"I went to West Point Prep after high school to get my grades up," Letts says. "I was actually recruited to play wide receiver up there (at Army) and I played wide receiver at prep school a whole season against other prep schools and junior college teams. Then I decided not to go to West Point and my coach knew coaches in the SEC. He had coached at Arkansas for a long time and he knew Coach Lovett (former AU defensive coordinator John Lovett). That is how I got down here. He sent film to Auburn and Coach Lovett said he would like me to come down."

There were several other logical reasons for Letts to make the move south as an invited walk-on. "My mother graduated from Auburn in 1972," he notes. "A lot of my family is from Atlanta. I have an older brother who graduated from Auburn and I have always been familiar with Auburn. Growing up as a little kid I always watched the Auburn-Alabama game. Even when I lived up in Chicago, I was an Auburn fan. There were a few other schools that I could have gone to as a preferred walk-on like Penn State or Ole Miss, but my father and I came down here for spring practices and I loved everything about it.

"I had a few other options," Letts notes. "I could have gone to some I-AA schools or smaller I-A programs on scholarship, but I have always wanted to play in the big-time. The first time I came here and I saw Jordan-Hare Stadium, the way that it stuck out over the campus was pretty amazing. It is something that I always wanted to do and I think it is the best decision I have ever made because of the people I have met here. The opportunity to play last year on special teams was great and I got to letter. I am excited about my opportunity this year on defense."

The move to defense was Lett's idea. "I am really excited about my position change," he says. "When I was playing wide receiver, changing over to defense was something that I was always thinking about doing. Getting changed over to safety and being with a whole different group of guys has been a great change. I am really excited about it."

The fact that he was competing with a talented group of young receivers in Devin Aromashodu, Ben Obomanu and Courtney Taylor made the move to safety a logical one. "We have some great young wide receivers," Letts says. "We have some great defensive backs, too, but I thought if I was ever going to have a chance at extended playing time, possibly as a starter in the future, it would be on defense."

Andrew Letts (16) covers redshirt freshman wide receiver Lee Guess (25) during an 11 on 11 session during spring training.

As the spring progressed, Letts began to make more plays in pass coverage and was quicker to the football in his run support duties. "In high school I mainly played defense at Hinsdale Central in Illinois," he says. "It is in the west suburbs. I played free safety up there. I was always more defensive-oriented than offense. I was a two-year starter on the varsity. We had a good team. My junior year I think we were 5-4 and my senior year were the first undefeated team there at 9-0, but we ended up getting upset in the first round of the playoffs. Now, the program has gotten a lot better. This past season they made it to the semi-finals of the state playoffs and they are in the biggest classification."

Letts opened the spring playing free safety and then moved to strong safety. I learned both of them," he says. "They are pretty much the same, but there are differences. I was having a little trouble with that. When they moved Junior (Junior Rosegreen) to corner that moved me up to the No. 2 strong safety spot. Coach gave me a really good opportunity to show what I could do. I was really thankful for that."

With spring practice finished and two-a-days not until August, this is a time to hit the weight room and do individual conditioning work with strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall and his staff. Letts is hoping that Coach Yox can make him bigger and stronger. "I weigh around 195 now and my goal is to go into two-a-days around 205," Letts says.

"Besides getting bigger, faster and stronger, the number one thing I want to work on is tackling and that is hard to work on in the summer," he says. "Coach said that was the number one thing to improve on. If I am bigger, faster and stronger I think I will have a better opportunity to get better as a tackler. Also this summer, I want to work on one-on-one coverage and get in with the DBs and watch as much film as possible so we can go over stuff in skellys and one-on-one drills."

Letts was singled out for praise several times by Chizik after the A-Day game. That is the kind of attention walk-ons don't normally get.

"I am really excited about the future after getting so many reps in the spring," Letts says. "I am really thankful about coach giving me the opportunity. I did okay in the spring game. There are some things that I could have done better, but him giving me the opportunity really helped.

"Going out there and getting as many reps as I did allowed me to calm down and relax out there. In the first few scrimmages, I was a lot more more nervous actually playing against the whole offense, although we weren't playing in front of that many people. In the A-Day game I felt like I like I got a lot more focused on the game. I wasn't nervous at all. I think getting all the reps I did was really helpful and will carry over to the fall."

Letts has an older brother named Preston who played college football, too. He was a middle linebacker for three seasons at Northwestern and then joined an exodus of players leaving after Gary Barnett left the Big 10 school near Chicago. Preston Letts finished his collegiate playing days at the University of Rhode Island.

Younger brother Andrew made a name for himself as an athlete in high school at Hindsdale Central and is now trying to do the same thing as a collegian. After two seasons trying to establish himself as a player at Auburn, this could be the breakthrough season for the redshirt sophomore.

Tiger Ticket Extra: At Hinsdale Central High, Letts earned All-State honors in track competing in the 4x100, 4x200, long jump and high jump. Originally a building science major at Auburn, Letts says he is considering a change to business. Although his parents still live in the Chicago area, he expects to get plenty of personal support from them this season. "My parents come down a good bit," he says. "They can fly to Atlanta. My dad plans to come to every game this year."

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