Former Tiger Trying To Make NFL Team's Roster

A member of the 2002 football Tigers discusses his quest to make an NFL team this summer as a rookie.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn graduate Ben Nowland is back on campus preparing for round two of his audition with the National Football League's San Francisco '49ers.

Nowland has survived the first round of camps and will be back on the West Coast in late July to try to earn a spot on the regular season roster.

"It has been going awesome," the former AU center says. "I talked to some of the veterans and I wasn't sure how much of the offense they had put in. I was surprised to find out they put the whole thing in. I am excited about knowing the whole offense going into training camp to get ready for the preseason games. I just need to tweak a few things. Overall, it went very well."

Ben Nowland snaps the football to Jason Campbell. Nowland is number 68 with the '49ers.

Nowland has been a key member of the Auburn offense in recent seasons with his combination of brains and brawn in the middle. An honor student at AU, he says he has enjoyed his first taste of life in the NFL. "It is an awesome atmosphere," Nowland says. "Everybody is buddy-buddy. Everybody plays dominoes with each other or goes bowling together. It is a real family-oriented type team.

"From my experience at Auburn, the closer we were as a team the better we did during the season," Nowland says. "With a tight-knit organization like San Francisco's, I think we will do well."

The '49ers have already cut one of the centers competing with Nowland and have invited the former Tiger back to training camp that will start July 25th in Santa Clara. The other center competing for the backup job is 6-2, 300-pounder Milford Stevenson, who originally signed with San Francisco as a free agent in 2001. The former Kansas State Wildcat has been playing this summer in NFL Europe.

Another of the centers, starter and All-Pro pick Jeremy Newberry, is a five-year veteran from Cal who recently had his knee scoped. "I guess it is a best-case scenario for me to have a chance to make the team," Nowland says. "They will probably carry two centers and keep nine to 10 (offensive linemen). It will be close."

Nowland has been doing everything he can to make sure he is fully prepared to make the roster. That includes staying over after the initial training camp of the summer to spend extra time in the '49ers' video room and on their practice field. "The biggest adjustment was learning the technology," Nowland notes. "It was a little different than what we learned in college and they call defenses different things. I had to learn new terminology in college every couple of years so that probably helped me out."

Ben Nowland

At his first NFL camp, the players did not have the pads on, but did a variety of drills in helmets and jerseys. "It was still kind of physical because we did one on one pass rush drills everyday," Nowland says. "We had nine on seven and seven on seven inside drills. No one was lowering their heads and butting people with their shoulders. We came through without any serious injury.

"I stayed over an extra week after the camp ended. I believe all of the coaches stayed an extra week before they went on vacation. It was good to get extra time with my coaches and show them that I am willing to work. I did some more offensive line specific drills with them. I wanted to show them my work ethic. I suggested it and my coach (Patrick Morris) had no problems with me staying out there."

The next camp for the free agent and the other '49ers starts on July 25th in Santa Clara. Nowland plans to arrive early to adjust to the time change and get situated. San Francisco has four exhibition games lined up in August starting with a game at Kansas City on the ninth, home games vs. Oakland on the 14th and New Orleans on the 23rd finishing with a road trip to San Diego on the 29th.

"I was kind of tentative at first, but the more I stayed out there the more I felt at home," the six-foot-three, 300-pounder says. "The '49ers are a heck of a team to go to. You walk through the front door they have five Super Bowl trophies right there and you say, ‘Oh, yeah.' They always seem to have a championship caliber team. They have got Dennis Erickson as the head coach. He came up to me and talked to me about Coach Tubs (Tommy Tuberville). It is a small world. It seems like everything works out. I believe he was up at Oregon with Coach (Noel) Mazzone."

The regular season starts on Sept. 7th against the Chicago Bears. There is no guarantee that Nowland will still be on the roster then, but you can be sure that if the former Tiger doesn't make the cut it won't be from lack of effort.

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