McCalebb Becoming Complete Player For Tigers

Auburn running back Onterio McCalebb has turned into a complete player for the Tigers in his junior season.

Auburn, Ala.—While the Auburn offense has sputtered for much of the 2011 season, one of the players that has stepped up his game tremendously is junior running back Onterio McCalebb. Adding the threat as a solid receiver out of the backfield to his already steady play at running back, Coach Gene Chizik said McCalebb is everything he's looking for in a player.

"First I'm going to talk about his evolution as a football player," Chizik said. "He comes to practice every day, and he only knows one speed. He can be a kickoff return guy. We can't afford for him to be that every week because he's so valuable to the offense that we can't really afford to have him get hurt, and we have other guys back there who can do that as well. He could do that consistently if we wanted him to.

"He's really developed his game as far as catching the football, whether it's bubble screens, screens out of the backfield, check downs. I think he's somebody that we've become confident with being able to do that. Along with him being able to carry the football and carry it out there on the edge and on the corner, we've even run him up inside this year on counters and things where he's made some nice runs there.

"I just think he's a complete player. Certainly him catching the ball has become something that I think he's become more confident in over the last two years, but he is just a complete football player. I'm just really proud of him. I just think he's worked at it. He's become a better football player because he's worked at it."

One of the league's most dangerous home run threats out of the backfield his first two seasons on the Plains, McCalebb hasn't been able to break the long runs he's been known for in the past in 2011, but he has managed to make an impact. Rushing for 387 yards and a pair of scores, he has shown the ability to be more physical and be a leader for the Tigers in his junior year.

"He has been carrying a big load, but he is a guy we can hang our hat on," Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. "He's a true champion. He took some licks and he got back up. Most people would want to come out of a game like that, but he's a great leader. He has been a great leader for us the last two years and we need to continually find ways to get him the ball."

Leadership is one of the things that McCalebb has taken to heart this season with so many of the leaders of the last two Auburn teams now gone. One of the few players on either side of the ball with a lot of experience, he said it's something he's worked hard at since the coaches came to him and talked about stepping up in that capacity.

"At the beginning of the season and back in the spring and summer the coaches told me I had to step up and be a leader," McCalebb said. "That's one thing I have been getting better at is being a leader. Even though we have been having some down times in games I still have to be a leader and be a positive role model for my teammates and especially the young guys. Some of the young guys it's their first year and they really don't know how to act and how it feels when you lose. I just have to be positive and tell them to keep their head up and keep fighting. We're not going to give up no matter what."

In addition to running the football perhaps the biggest impact McCalebb has made on Auburn's offense is catching the ball out of the backfield. The team leader with 22 receptions in eight games, McCalebb said he's willing to do whatever it takes to help the Tigers get a win on Saturday.

"I have gotten better at catching the ball and with blocking," McCalebb said. "Everything is coming along very good right now.

"I just go out there and do whatever to help my team be successful," he added. "Whether it's running the ball or catching the ball or blocking I just go out there and do what I can do to help my team win."

Currently 5-3 on the season Auburn needs one more win to become bowl eligible and the first opportunity comes this Saturday night at 6 p.m. against the Ole Miss Rebels (2-5). With the offense looking to make some strides expect McCalebb to be at the center of things on the field and he said even when he's not out there he's going to be talking up his teammates to make sure everyone is on the same page.

"I'm one of the leaders on the offense so I go around and talk to everybody," McCalebb said. "It doesn't matter if we're down or what, if we're winning or not, I stay positive with all my teammates. I talk to them and get on them and pay attention and to be focused. We have to win no matter what."

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