StatTiger: AU's Little Big Man On Offense

Onterio McCalebb will be a key player for the Auburn offense again this fall.

When Onterio McCalebb first arrived at Auburn in 2009 his dream was to play in the NFL as soon as possible, making Auburn just another pit-stop along his path to success.

During his senior at Fort Meade High School in Florida, McCalebb rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and he scored 27 touchdowns. Scout.com rated him as a four-star recruit and the No. 38 running back in the nation.

In 2008, after McCalebb signed his letter of intent to continue his path to glory at Auburn University, it would require an intermediate stop at Hargrave Military Academy to address his academics before he could play for the Tigers. When he arrived at the military institution his cell phone was immediately taken away, which was difficult for a young man far away from home and another roadblock from where he truly wanted to be.

"A lot of people see it's like that and end up quitting, going back home and not ending up accomplishing what they wanted to accomplish because they let stuff like that get to them," said McCalebb, recalling his time at Hargrave.

Life for the running back had never been easy growing up. He was primarily raised by his grandparents because of his mother's substance abuse problems. "I just had to grind it out, wait my time and get through it," he said.

When he finally arrived at Auburn in 2009, the football program was under the direction of a new coaching staff. McCalebb had previously committed to Tommy Tuberville's staff after his 2007 season, but he maintained his commitment to the Tigers when Gene Chizik took over as head coach. Other programs continued to recruit McCalebb while he was at Hargrave, but he remained loyal to Auburn despite the coaching change.

McCalebb had immediate success on the football field as an Auburn Tiger, becoming the first freshman in school history to rush for more than 100 yards in each of his first two games. Though some continue to question his lack of size (168 pounds) as he enters his senior season, no one has ever questioned his heart to play the game.

In the long run playing in the NFL was always McCalebb's dream, but he was a big Auburn fan early on in high school. "I loved Auburn since Cadillac Williams was there," he said. "When I was sitting at home, I wished I would get a scholarship from Auburn. I always wanted to come to Auburn because I love it here and I love the atmosphere."

After a solid freshman season despite being slowed by injuries, McCalebb became a featured component of the 2010 offense during his sophomore campaign. He set a new school record for yards per carry in a season by averaging 8.5 yards per rush. With only 95 carries during the entire season, McCalebb made the most of them by rushing for 810 yards and nine touchdowns.

Along his journey to make something of himself to support his mother, McCalebb collected a national championship ring in 2010.

Entering his junior season he came to the realization that it was time for him to become a leader. "I was riding around in the car the other day and I realized I've been here a long time," McCalebb said last year. "It's a good thing because there are a lot of young guys coming in and I can teach them a few things."

The offense didn't live up to expectations last season and the Tigers slipped to 8-5. McCalebb's numbers dropped, too, with the lack of a consistent passing game to set the stage for the running attack. He finished the year with 641 rushing yards despite having more opportunities to carry the ball.

This year, after making the decision to bypass the NFL Draft following his junior season, he has stepped up his leadership role and is expected to be a key player. If things work out, he will finish his career very high on several of Auburn's all-time lists for offensive production.

Though his goal remains to play in the NFL, McCalebb now realizes he has already lived a dream come true while at Auburn. "It's my senior year. I came back because I love Auburn," he said, words similar to ones Carnell Williams uttered when he announced he was coming back for his senior season to play for the Tigers.

"I love my coaches and I want to help my team win," McCalebb said recently. "I am an Auburn man and I always will be."

McCalebb enters his final college season with 3,341 all-purpose yards, ninth best in school history. He is 1,552 yards away from surpassing Bo Jackson for third place on Auburn's all-time list for most all-purpose yardage.

Though McCalebb has been limited in terms of his offensive touches, the undersized running back goes into the 2012 season with 45 "impact" plays, which are plays gaining 15 or more yards. He has an opportunity to surpass stars such as Stephen Davis (59), Williams (55) and Ronnie Brown (52) for the most "impact" plays by an Auburn running back over the past two decades.

Despite Auburn making a change at offensive coordinator with Scot Loeffler replacing Gus Malzahn, McCalebb said he believes his role will basically be the same. McCalebb has touched the football on offense at least 10 times during 17 different Auburn games. He averaged 88 yards per contest at 6.6 yards per play while Auburn compiled a 14-3 record in those games.

Onterio McCalebb has 2,016 career rushing yards, which puts him 15th in Auburn history.

During the 38 games McCalebb has appeared in as a college player, he accumulated more than 90 all-purpose yards 17 times. Playing as a complementary back to Ben Tate as a freshman and Michael Dyer the past two seasons, he has been able to become a difference-maker for the Tigers despite fewer touches than the team's featured tailback.

From day one of his arrival on the Plains as a nervous freshman to today as a more mature and polished all-around person, McCalebb has always a determined young man. He has never shied away from hard work and has always been willing to place his personal goals aside for the good of his team.

Because of thos qualities, McCalebb has the respect of his coaches, teammates and Auburn fans, who are hoping that he has a big finish for the Tigers and moves on to a successful pro career even though he didn't even mention pro football in his most recent interview.

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