Bret Eddins and fellow AU defensive lineman Jay Ratliff (83) conduct drills at a YMCA football clinic in Montgomery on Friday evening. Photography: Todd Van Emst.
I hear athletes from equestrian riders to swimmers to golfers talk about their love for their school and their teammates and about the valuable lessons they've learned in competition. And I remember what is good about college athletics.
I hear Reggie Torbor talk about his love and gratitude for his school because, while competing at the highest level, he earned a college degree, learned about responsibility and about the real meaning of being a man. And I remember what is good about college athletics.
I sit in the wedding congregation and hear Joseph Whitt, the son of Auburn assistant Joe Whitt, pledge his life and his love to Erica. I remember a walk-on who earned his way, became a national leader of student-athletes and now teaches them as a Louisville coach. And I remember what is good about college athletics.
I see Demarco McNeil, who grew up in poverty, work as hard in the classroom as he does on the football field. His dream of the NFL doesn't come true, but he is prepared for the rest of his life because he became the first member of his family to earn a college degree. And I remember what is good about college athletics.
I read about two former Auburn players being among the Southeastern Conference's five "Good Guys" named by The Sporting News. I read about former Auburn fullback Tony Richardson of the Kansas City Chiefs making more than 400 community appearances in four years, donating 4,800 backpacks with supplies to a local mission and giving 51,000 dictionaries to local schools.
I read about former Auburn offensive lineman Willie Anderson of the Cincinnati Bengals feeding more than 500 people on an ongoing basis in Cincinnati and his hometown of Mobile. And I remember what is good about college athletics.
I see the pride in the eyes of Dontarrious Thomas when he talks about winning yet another academic honor. And I remember what is good about college athletics.
I see linebacker Travis Williams go out of his way to shake your hand, look you in the eye and always have a kind word. And I remember what is good about college athletics.
I see Jason Campbell push on with a smile on his face despite painful and unfair criticism. I see Brandon Cox come back from debilitating illness when most people would have thrown up their hands and given up. And I remember what is good about college athletics.
I see Pat Sullivan display the same fighting spirit in a battle with cancer that he showed as a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Auburn. And I remember what is good about college athletics.
I hear the testimony of Auburn team chaplain Chette Williams, once a college football player gone astray, and see him reach out to help those who are hurting. And I remember what is good about college football.
The truth is, in 35 years of covering college sports, I have witnessed so many success stories, known so many young men and women with uncommon drive and dedication, that I could write all night and not list them all.
There are scoundrels in college athletics just like there are scoundrels in the newspaper business and in every other walk of life. But it has been my honor to know most of the young men and women whose paths I have crossed at Auburn, Alabama and at schools across the nation. The likes of Willie Williams tarnish them all in the eyes of the public. That is unfortunate. And it is unfair.
Editor's Note: Phillip Marshall writes two opinion columns each week for AUTigers.com.