McNeill Looking To Pave The Way For Special Season

Sophomore Marcus McNeill talks about the summer and the 2003 season.

Auburn, Ala.--Perhaps the biggest surprise last football season for the Auburn Tigers was the emergence of true freshman offensive tackle Marcus McNeill into the starting lineup. One of the best tackles in the SEC by the end of the season, the 6-9, 322-pound McNeill enters the 2003 season as a player to watch for the Tigers.

Now stronger and more experienced, McNeill says he feels ready to have an even better season this year after working this summer with Strength and Conditioning Coach Kevin Yoxall.

"I did not know how hard it was during the summer for those boys last year, especially coming in halfway during the summer and not doing most of the stuff because I wasn't in good enough condition" McNeill says. "I got a whole new respect for Coach Yox. I never thought Coach Yox could take it to the level he did this year with some of the things. You just have to take it in stride. Whatever he tells you to do, you have to do it because you know it will make you better.

"I feel much better," McNeill says after losing nearly 30 pounds in the last year. "I feel stronger, I feel faster, I have much more endurance. I have better technique and everything else. I've pretty much fine-tuned my body this summer compared to when I came in as a freshman, even when I played last year. I'm on a whole new level. Plus, I think I look better too."

Marcus McNeill is shown in action during a practice last season.

Along with returning starters Monreko Crittenden, Mark Pera and Danny Lindsey, McNeill spent much of his summer working on plays and teaching the newcomers the ins and outs of the offense. That meant getting sharper on his end as well, something that should pay dividends this fall and showed on the first day of practice.

"We've been going over plays vigorously all summer so it really wasn't a big shock when we came back today," McNeill says. "We ran the plays pretty crisply. We were pretty fine tuned for a first day of practice, but we have a long ways to go before we play USC."

A trimmer version of the mammoth youngster who walked onto the Auburn campus last summer, McNeill says that he hopes his conditioning will allow him to practice more than last season when he missed workouts early in the season because of a sore back. He says the weight he lost should also allow him to be into the game more in the fourth quarter, something that is integral for success in close games.

"We know that you have to play the first three quarters, but we always know it's how you finish," McNeill says. "Whatever team practices the hardest, works the hardest, is going to win the fourth quarter because they are going to have that endurance. You have to have the mind power, you need the physical ability to stay in the fourth quarter because when fatigue hits you have to be able to think. That's what Coach Yox has us ready for this year."

With 16 starters back from last season and 46 lettermen, this is the most experienced Auburn team in many years, something that doesn't escape the keen mind of McNeill. Knowing how important veteran leadership is to winning, he says that the older players have been very big to the development of this team to this point.

"It would be a lot different if we were on a team that wasn't that seasoned, where not a lot of people had played," McNeill notes. "Then you really don't know what's going to happen. We have all these veterans and they are wonderful leaders. You can jump on their back and let them carry you somewhat. You have to tote your own load, but we have a great group of seniors that have stepped up this summer. I think they are going to take us full steam ahead into the season."

With approximately 20 practice days until the opening kickoff against USC at Jordan-Hare Stadium in what will be one of the top games of the season in college football, McNeill and his offensive line teammates will be preparing to face one of the best defensive lines in the country. Because of that he says that this fall will be very important and the line is shooting for just one goal before opening day.

"We're looking for perfection, that's what we're looking for," McNeill says. "We're trying to come off the ball hard, keep our steps right, just everything from breaking the huddle to standing in the huddle right to running to the line. We're trying to create perfection. I know we might not be able to do that, but we're trying to get as close to it as possible."

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