Auburn, Ala.--When Tunde Fariyike, who has already graduated, decided not to return as Auburn’s backup center for a redshirt senior season, the Tigers needed a player to step up behind three-year starter Reese Dismukes.
With just a bit more than two weeks to go before Auburn opens the 2014 football season with a league contest vs. Arkansas, newcomer Xavier Dampeer looks like he has locked up the backup role behind Dismukes, a preseason All-SEC player who is scheduled to start for a fourth consecutive year.
A six-foot-three, 296-pound junior college transfer who arrived at Auburn in January, Dampeer pointed out that Dismukes has been helping the junior make the adjustment to his new team.
“Reese is a great leader, he’s a great mentor,” Dampeer said. “He is the best in the nation and being the best in the nation just doesn’t come from being on the field, it comes from being a great leader, being a great person outside of football, too. That’s what I feel like has helped him become the best center in the nation.”
Dampeer isn’t certain how much, if any, he is going to play this year if Dismukes stays healthy. The junior still has a redshirt season to use and the coaches have the option to hold him out this season to give the center the potential to be a two-year starter for the Tigers.
“Right now that’s not really on my mind,” Dampeer said. “I’m just trying to take it one day at a time and trying to get better in fall camp.”
While saying he would like to see action this season, he added, “I’m going to play it out and roll with it whatever happens.”
Last season he played well enough to be named the top offensive lineman in the Mississippi junior college ranks at Copiah-Lincoln after making the move from defensive tackle, the position he played as a freshman.
“I would like to play this year, but I’m going to do what is best for my future and what is best for this team,” Dampeer said. “I feel like it would help me going into my senior year, but if I don’t get any real playing time this year I will be fine with that. I will just come in next year ready to work.
Arriving at Auburn in time for winter workouts and spring training has given Dampeer a head start on preparing for his first season in the Southeastern Conference.
“I had to mature more and get used to the speed of this offense and the speed of being in the SEC,” he said when talking about his adjustment to major college football. “I realized fast how people move around here. There are a lot of freaks of nature in this league. I had to really step up, man up.”
Dampeer noted that going against Auburn’s veteran defensive tackles has been good for his development. “We have a great group of defensive linemen on our team and every day I come out in practice and we just go at it and I just feel better from that,” he said.
Prior to playing at Copiah-Lincoln, Dampeer had played center at Mendenhall High School in Mississippi, which made the adjustment to center smoother last season.
“I know that I can play this position, but I have to take it one day at a time because I don’t know everything that a center needs to know on this level, but that’s why they have practices, that’s why they have repetitions to get better.”
Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes said that Dampeer has made steady progress since he arrived on campus and that the junior should be ready to get the job done if needed this season. Grimes said that Dismukes is the best offensive lineman he has coached in 38 years on the job so Dampeer understands that the senior is the man at center again this year.
“I’m not going to rush it,” Dampeer said when talking about playing time. “I’m just going to do what’s best for this team. The coaches know what’s best for our players so I trust them with my future and whatnot. They know what they’re doing and I trust them. I’ll be just fine.
Deon Mix, the No. 3 center, is a redshirt freshman who is also making progress, according to Grimes.
With the Tigers in the camp portion of preparations for the 2014 season, Dampeer said he is working to improve his technique. “Actually, I’m trying to get better at everything all around. I’m trying to be the best center, the best player, the best athlete that I can be.
“I just want to take the blessings that God has given me with this talent and everything, and I just want to maximize. I’m just using my influence in a positive manner, using my talent in a positive manner--just do whatever I have to do to take it help this team to where we want to go.”
The lineman said he is seeing progress with the Tigers, who open the season on August 30th vs. Arkansas.
“Every day we get better,” he said. “We come out there with the mindset that we can’t lag around, every practice has to be on point. You have to have the right mentality going out there and I feel like our offensive line has that mentality. You can’t coach effort and we bring maximum effort every play so we’re just taking it one day at a time.”