Before breaking for Christmas, Auburn head coach Gene Chizik recognized the 2011 defensive and offensive scout team players of the year at the squad's formal banquet last week.
The offensive winner is a rather high-profile player, transfer running back Corey Grant, who was a four-star prospect as a senior at Opelika High. He originally signed with Alabama before transferring to Auburn, where he walked on to the team for the 2011 season and redshirted.
The Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year, Daniel Pond, is a true freshman who played on the unbeaten 2010 Class 5A state championship team at Spanish Fort High School.
Unlike Grant, who had numerous scholarship offers, Pond had to take the walk-on route to be able to play major college football in the Southeastern Conference.
A 6-1, 210-pound linebacker, Pond notes that he is happy to have a chance to be on the team. When his name was called at the awards dinner banquet, Pond says he was caught off guard. "I wasn't expecting the award," he says. "Everyone on the scout team works hard so it is an honor to get it."
Chizik notes that he enjoys being able to recognize the hard work and dedication Pond and Grant have shown. "It was really great we got to reward some guys who have really worked hard," he says.
"Daniel Pond, just every day, gives great effort out there," Chizik adds, pointing that effort is noticed by the other players as well as the coaches.
Pond's current assignment is helping the offense prepare for the University of Virginia's defense. He says with the large of amount of practice time the Tigers have already put in, plus more practices set at the bowl site starting on Monday, he believes Auburn will be ready to play well vs. the Cavaliers.
"We know them pretty well so it should be a good game," he says of the Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup, which will start at 6:30 p.m. Central Time on New Year's Eve at the Georgia Dome.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that Pond has won an award for his work on a football scout team. When he transferred to Spanish Fort High School from a private school as a sophomore, he had to sit out of football for a season under Alabama High School Athletic Association rules.
During that season away from competition, Pond improved personally and helped his new team prepare for games. As a junior he became a starter, moving ahead of a two-year starter on the depth chart.
In that role he helped the relatively new program at Spanish Fort High develop into one of the top teams in the state.
In his final high school game Pond and fellow Auburn freshman, center Reese Dismukes, got to celebrate a state championship victory in a contest played on the Auburn campus.
"That was a blast," Pond says of the championship game victory last December. "We got to come into Auburn's stadium and play. It was great to get into the locker room and be the home team for that game. It was a lot of fun because the year before we lost in the semi-finals so it was nice to finish as the champion."
While Pond wasn't offered a scholarship by Auburn or any major program, he was invited to join the team as walk-on. He got the offer to be a member of the team after what looked like a possible football scholarship from the Naval Academy did not come through.
Pond points out everything is going well for him at Auburn on the field and in the classroom. He originally thought about majoring in engineering, but says he has not come to a final decision on that just yet.
"It has been a lot of fun," he says of his freshman year in college. "It has been a lot more than I expected it to be. I never expected to be playing at a place like Auburn. It has been really cool to be able to dress out for a few games and be a part of the whole experience."
After the bowl game vs. Virginia, Pond will take part in the winter workouts. His goal is to add muscle and more size, and eventually get to 225 to 230 pounds. Mainly a middle linebacker in high school, he has been adjusting to playing outside linebacker this season.
While learning that assignment he has been helping prepare the offense as the Tigers install the game plan. "The scout team defense simulates the other team's defense so for the last two weeks we have been doing Virginia's defense," Pond says. "We watch their film and simulate their blitz packages, coverages and other stuff."
After winter workouts Pond will get another opportunity to attract the attention of the coaching staff during spring practice. "I am looking forward to the chance to compete," the freshman says. "It will be a lot of fun."
Pond did a good job in preseason practices when he arrived in the summer and made the dress squad for the opening game vs. Utah State. "I think the most people we ever had for a high school game was 15,000 and there was like 90,000 at the game," he says. "When I was running out of the tunnel I was literally laughing. I couldn't control myself and I was thinking, "This is kind of cool."
Redshirting this season the linebacker hasn't played in a game and that won't change on New Year's Eve when the Tigers play Virginia. What is his scouting report on UVA's defense? "It is not too shabby," he says. "It is an ACC defense, which is a little different than the SEC, but are pretty good."