Former Tiger Gets A Shot At NFL

This former Auburn football standout will have to earn his way after being signed as a free agent.

Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.--The wait is finally over for former Auburn center Ben Nowland.

After sitting through two days of the NFL Draft without a call from a team looking for some help on the offensive line, the San Francisco '49ers gave Nowland a call just minutes after Mr. Irrelevant was selected by the Oakland Raiders. Deferring the call to his agent after speaking for a few minutes, Nowland got the news that he was headed for the West Coast to try and make the roster of one of the NFL's most storied franchises.

"I was really scared," Nowland said about not receiving any calls from teams. "I really started to sweat it towards the end. I heard from the '49ers within 15 minutes. They said they were looking to sign a center free agent and they asked if I was interested. I said to check it out with my agent. They called him and from there we worked out a deal.

Ben Nowland was a key member of Auburn's offense last season.

"I'm really excited. It's a great city and a great program. I'm still in shock I guess. It's been an emotional roller coaster. I went from being extremely down to on cloud nine. I think it's a great opportunity and that's really all I wanted was a shot."

A 6-2, 300-pounder who started 33 games in his Auburn career and was named Auburn's best blocker for the 2002 season, Nowland had plenty of chances to show the NFL his ability in both the run and pass games. Strong performances in both the Senior Bowl and Auburn's Pro Day helped his cause, but it was a nerve-wracking time for a player who really didn't know what to expect in the draft.

"I'm ecstatic that it's behind me now," Nowland said. "They should really make this cruel and unusual punishment because it was horrible sitting here for two days. Yesterday really wasn't as bad as today, but I'm glad it's over. It ended on a positive note."

Heading out Thursday for San Francisco to take part in a three-day rookie mini-camp with the '49ers, Nowland said he anxious to get there and get acquainted with some of the other newcomers to the roster. Players like Penn State's Anthony Adams, Notre Dame's Arnaz Battle and former Georgia standout and current tailback Garrison Hearst are players Nowland has met over the last few months either at the Senior Bowl or training in Atlanta with Chip Smith.

Another player that Nowland has met and should help with the transition to the NFL is former Auburn fullback Fred Beasley. One of the top fullbacks in the league, Beasley is one of several former Tigers at his position to become quality players at the next level. Nowland said having him in San Francisco will be a big help over the course of the next few months leading up to training camp in July.

Robert Johnson celebrates a touchdown last season.

While Nowland's day ended on a high note, the same can't be said for tight end Robert Johnson. After giving up his senior season to enter the draft early, Johnson went undrafted and will now try to make it as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons. The same goes for free safety Travaris Robinson, who will get a shot at both cornerback and safety with the Falcons. Tight end Lorenzo Diamond was picked up as a free agent by the Arizona Cardinals and linebacker Mark Brown will head to New York to try to make it as a Jet. Cornerback Horace Willis was signed by the Minnesota Vikings, Damon Duval by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dante Booker by the Indinapolis Colts.

Mark Brown

"I was shocked," Nowland said when no Auburn player was drafted this weekend. "I feel some of their pain, too. It was really surprising." Nowland was also shocked to learn that this was the first time since 1976 an Auburn player hasn't been drafted. "That's nice. I guess I can say I was on a lot of firsts at Auburn."

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