A talented lineman who redshirted two years ago following a shoulder injury suffered late in the season, Bourgeois was poised for big things last fall. That was until another shoulder injury early in the year put an end to his season.
Now healthy once again after going through surgery over the winter, the 6-6, 305 guard/tackle is looking for bigger and better things this season. Expected to challenge fellow sophomore Troy Reddick for the starting job at weak guard, he tells Inside the Auburn Tigers that he's ready to get things moving in early August.
"The shoulder is feeling fine," Bourgeois says. "I feel like I'm getting back into shape. Everything is looking pretty good. It doesn't bother me and I really don't even think about it. I'm full speed in the weight room. There are a few things I won't ever do again, mainly some overhead stuff, but I'm not lacking anything in the weight room. I'm feeling good about it."
Feeling good could be the theme of the 2003 Auburn Tigers as they are the favorite to win the SEC Western Division and play in Atlanta in early December. That is a different feeling that Bourgeois has felt since he arrived on the Auburn campus just two years ago. Part of the continued building process for Coach Tommy Tuberville, he says this is an important season for his team.
"The pressure is on," he notes. "Everybody knows that. All these expectations and preseason polls, everybody knows who Auburn is. In the past we have been working to prove people wrong. Now we are actually getting a little credit and we're working to keep that. We're working hard. It's great. We're doing everything we can to make sure it stays that way. We want people to always know who Auburn is.
"We don't want to be the team that is ranked in the top five and ends up not being what we're supposed to be. We're working extra hard to make sure we accomplish what we want to accomplish, what we know we can accomplish. The attitude is great right now and we're working hard."
Taylor Bourgeois was the starter at tackle last season ahead of Marcus McNeill prior shoulder surgery ending the season early.
Much of the expectations heaped on the Tigers this season comes from a late season finish that included wins over Top 10 Alabama and Penn State to round out the 2002 season with a record of 9-4. Averaging more than 200 yards rushing per game and 387 total offense, the unit came together. Still, it was the running game that was the catalyst last season and that figures to be the case again this season with Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown and Tre Smith back along with junior college transfer Brandon Jacobs.
"It's a whole lot of fun," Bourgeois says of the expectations on the running game. "We've got four great tailbacks and two great fullbacks (Brandon Johnson and Jake Slaughter), you can't ask for much more than that as a lineman. It makes us look a lot better because we just get in front of people sometimes and they make things happen. It's great having them behind us.
"All four of them could probably start at any other school in America, and we have four of them on our team. It's not just a one-two punch, it's like our punch doesn't stop with our tailbacks. Those guys just keep on reloading and that makes us feel good."
At the top of the list of question marks on offense for most preseason pundits is at quarterback where junior Jason Campbell takes over full-time for the first time in his career. A steady influence on and off the field, Campbell has striven to become the leader the players look up to. Bourgeois says he can see the smooth Mississippi native becoming more comfortable every single day on the practice fields as the Tigers prepare for two-a-days in early August.
"Jason is doing a great job," Bourgeois says. "He's finally come around. He knows it's his time to shine now. The pressure is off him. It's still on, but it's off a little bit knowing that there's not somebody always behind him looking over his shoulder. He's doing a great job of taking it upon himself to make sure we're doing things right when we go out there. I know when they do seven-on-seven they are working hard and there's no fooling around. He's definitely in control."
With Campbell settling in last fall, leading the Tigers and becoming more comfortable each and every game, Auburn caught the attention of prognosticators heading into the 2003 season. That means high expectations on both sides of the ball. Working against a strong defense every day in practice, Bourgeois says that will only make this team better in the long run.
"Our defense is a good one," he says. "It only makes you a better player when you are going against somebody good everyday in practice. It helps us out with speed and playing against depth. Our defensive line is real good too and that helps us to see them all the time."
Facing one of the nation's toughest schedules, Auburn opens against another team expected to be one of the top squads in the country. With numerous contributors back on both sides of the ball, the USC Trojans will be a tough test for the Tigers. Ready to get the season under way, Bourgeois says that he's looking forward to having the country's opening best game on his home field vs. Southern Cal.
"You can't really describe the way it's going to feel until you actually walk out on to that field," Bourgeois says. "It almost leaves you speechless. It's great. All eyes will be on us and people will be looking to knock us out. You couldn't ask for more."