"It is definitely a big one for me," says sophomore tight end Steven Ross, a former standout at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, Tenn. "I have a lot of friends I graduated with who go to Tennessee," Ross says. "They have been talking to me all year telling me how they are going to beat us."
The Volunteers will bring a 4-0 record for their first trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium since 1998 in a series that Auburn leads 22-21 with with three ties. However, the Vols have won four straight vs. the Tigers. "It is going to be a real exciting game," Ross predicts. "They have had a good year and this should be another exciting SEC game so I am trying to be prepared for Saturday."
Ross has been a swing man for the Tigers moving from tackle to tight end and back again several times this season. He has spent the entire week practicing at tight end. With Anthony Mix making the move to wide receiver from tight end, Ross will likely stay at tight end the rest of the season.
Last Saturday, in Auburn's 48-3 victory over Western Kentucky, Ross came through with his first college pass reception. "It was fun getting the first one under my belt," he says with a smile. "It was fun to get to play a good bit and get a lot of game experience."
The tight ends as a group caught five passes last week with starter Cooper Wallace grabbing one and backup Cole Bennett catching three. Head coach Tommy Tuberville says he would like to see that trend continue. "We need to throw the ball more to the tight ends than we have been," Tuberville says.
Ross says he isn't sure that will be the case as the season progresses, but notes, "It seems like we are catching a few more passes in practice."
The six-foot-six, 270-pounder has been studying video of Tennessee in his spare time and says the 4-0 Vols will offer a stiff challenge on Saturday night. "It looks like they have got a good defense," Ross says. "They come off the ball and play hard. They play to the whistle. They move around well and are a physical team."
Ross and the other tight ends will likely have their hands full with Tennessee's linebackers, which look to be a strength of the 2003 Volunteers. "Moving from tackle to tight end you block the linebackers more than you do the defensive tackles," Ross notes. "They have got some good linebackers so I have been trying to do everything I can to be prepared."
Ross, who played on a state championship team at CPA in high school, says he kept up with the Vols before coming to Auburn and knows that UT normally has strong teams like the 2003 group, which is ranked seventh nationally this week. "I didn't really have a favorite team, but I did follow Tennessee a good bit when I was little just because they were the big in-state team. I grew up watching them a good bit, but I didn't go to any games in Knoxville until I was in high school."
Kickoff for Saturday's game is set for 6:45 p.m. Tickets are tough to find for a contest that will be televised nationally on ESPN.