Following In Dansby's Footsteps

Kevin Sears talks about his adjustment to playing linebacker in college and Karlos Dansby's influence on his game.

Auburn, Ala.--When you look on the field at Auburn's defense, perhaps the easiest player to spot is linebacker Karlos Dansby.

An impressive looking linebacker with size, speed and athleticism, Dansby is the model for today's defenses that need both a physical presence and speed to run down offensive players at the point of attack.

The unfortunate thing for Auburn is that Dansby is a senior and will be taking his talents to the NFL next season. One reason for Coach Joe Whitt and the rest of the defensive staff to smile though has been the play of freshman Kevin Sears behind Dansby at linebacker.

A former high school free safety, Sears was a late academic qualifier who sat out the 2002 season, but was able to participate in spring drills earlier this year as a freshman. Sears made obvious strides in the spring and has continued his development in his first season of college football. He has been a solid backup as he competes for playing time with former running back Derrick Graves.

"Kevin Sears is going to be a heck of a football player," Coach Tommy Tuberville says. "He just needs more reps. Three days of work (last week) really helped him along with Derrick Graves, who hasn't had a great start considering he came off a great spring practice. I think he's back to old form now that he's getting a lot of reps."

Kevin Sears is shown at practice on AU's new artificial turf field.

With the off week after the victory at Vanderbilt, the Tigers practiced three days before taking Friday and Saturday off to rest and spend some time away from the game. That's not always the case though as football players are just like the average fan in wanting to check out a future opponent to see how they look.

"It's always great to get a little time off," Sears says. "When you come back you know that everything is going to be full speed. Everything gets back to the normal tempo.

"You want to get away from football, but then there are big games on every Saturday," he adds. "Once you turn the channel and see them then it's hard to turn and watch something else. It lets you see what the other teams can do and some of the players to remember."

Something that Sears has excelled in this fall is playing special teams on both the punt and kickoff units. Sears says that a teammate convinced him that playing everything he can right now will pay off in the future.

"That's how it all starts," Sears says. "Karlos talked about playing special teams when he first got here. The big thing is that you don't think you'll get to see the field and then you play special teams and you're out there getting you ready for when you play defense."

Following a solid spring, Sears went into the weight room with a purpose to try to get bigger and stronger in order to handle the offensive linemen he faces as an outside linebacker. Gaining weight and confidence, he says it's much easier now to play the position than last fall when he had problems getting off blocks.

"I feel more comfortable right now," Sears notes. "I am starting to learn how a linebacker is supposed to play as opposed to playing high back there at safety and just roaming around. Last fall I came in at 215 and I got up to 240 over the summer. I'm back down to 230 right now, but I feel good.

Sears says the extra size is needed to play linebacker. "It's just a different type of contact," he says. "Playing safety you can build up some speed and get some momentum going for any type of contact. At linebacker you have to take the right steps and come free and make the lick on somebody."

No matter how much or how little he plays this season, the experience of just being part of the action will be a big boost for him in later seasons. Although the experience of playing is important, Sears says that the experience of playing behind and learning from Dansby could be the most important thing of all.

"That's very big for me," Sears says. "He's always going to do the right thing. He's been here and done it. He's been here when times were good and times were bad. He's a leader out there on the field and that's great to have that leader in front of you."

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