Auburn, Ala.--English philosopher Bern Williams once said “The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day he created Spring.” He didn’t have the Auburn Tigers football program in mind when he said those words, but it could describe the feeling around Gus Malzahn’s coaches and team as they prepare to take time off for break following the fifth of 15 practice dates this spring.
Coming off a disappointing 7-6 season and with coaching changes on both sides of the ball, the Tigers have found that new blood has created a new energy around the program. That’s something that junior center Austin Golson said is apparent when you’re on the off the field right now.
“Honestly, it feels different,” the Prattville native said. “It feel different like back when I was in high school, the year that we won the state championship with the energy. People flying around and having confidence in what we’re doing.
“I’ve really enjoyed practice. I don’t think anybody is dreading practice. Last year, I remember that we had some guys: ‘Man, I can’t wait until spring break.’ Nah, today we were like: ‘Man, I can’t wait to get out there and practice and then we can worry about spring break.’ I think that means a lot. I really like where we are.”
That feeling doesn’t just apply to the offense, but carries over to the defense as well. While he spends a lot of time coaching the offense Malzahn has seen the change on the other side of the ball with new coordinator Kevin Steele and assistants Travis Williams and Wesley McGriff joining with Rodney Garner to make a staff that is working well together.
“I feel great,” Malzahn said. “The staff is doing a great job. We have a chance to be pretty good on defense. You can just sense it and you can tell it feels different out there from a defensive standpoint.”
A lot of the feelings on defense come from the coaching style that Steele brings to the table. While he’s not afraid to tell you what he’s thinking to get his point across, Steele does it in a way that defensive end Carl Lawson said makes guys want to get the job done for him.
“He’s making us put in effort without having to do all the screaming and stuff,” Lawson said of Steele. “When we got that, I honestly feel it makes us want to compete. I feel like another thing carrying over is in our offseason drills, we had pretty much a lot of guys who are competing in the morning workouts. I think that carried over and definitely translates into the spring. Everybody just wants to go out there and compete.”
Competing is what the defense has carried over from the bowl win over Memphis when the Tigers shut down a very good offense in the win. That confidence to get the job done combined with plenty of veterans returning has Lawson and his teammates ready to take it to the next level.
“I think it showed what we've got going into next year,” Lawson said. “We've got a lot of veteran guys on the D-line, a lot of young guys coming up so I think it's going to springboard us into next season.
“I can't wait to have a quiet, good offseason. We're going to be the underdog for pretty much a lot of our games and that's what I'm looking forward to so we can prove the world wrong.”
Auburn defensive Kevin Steele is going through his first spring practice with the Tigers.
As the team breaks for 11 days this group of Tigers seems to be feeling good about the progress they’ve made dating back to when they begin prep for the Birmingham Bowl. For some teams that’s really the start of the next season and for Auburn it has given this team a pep in its step. With 10 work days left and a summer to get ready for the season opener against Clemson sophomore H-Back Chandler Cox said at the moment this team’s vibe is very different from the one he experienced a year ago and that’s a good thing.
“There's definitely a different feeling out there,” Cox said. “Even today, at the end of practice, when the defense and the offense comes together and bouncing up and down... there's just a different feeling. It's a good feeling. I can tell.
“In high school, when there's something changing in the air, you can feel it. It's a good feeling," Cox added. "That's definitely what I feel this year. It's totally different than what it was last year. I don't know what it is. I don't think anyone knows yet, but there's something brewing in the air, something good.”