Tigers Trying To Win With Character

Editor's Note: Phillip Marshall writes two columns each week on Auburn, SEC and college athletics for AUTigers.com, the internet home of <i>Inside the Auburn Tigers</i> magazine.

A day after eight Auburn University graduates, who happen to be senior football players posed for a photograph in their caps and gowns, Ole Miss suspended a running back for six games and dismissed a linebacker after both pleaded guilty to gun-related charges.

On the same day that freshman quarterback Calvin Booker, who chose Auburn over Duke, remembered the time he wasn't allowed to play sports because he made a B in school, a Texas running back was sentenced to eight days in jail after pleading no contest to criminal trespassing.

A few days after 20 Auburn football players helped out at Storybook Farm, a nonprofit, therapeutic horseback riding facility for children coping with illness or loss, Virginia Tech announced that quarterback Marcus Vick would be suspended for the season after pleading no contest to reckless driving and marijuana possession, his second run-in with the law since last season.

More than a dozen Division I-A football players have been arrested and charged with various offenses over the summer. Some 25 Arkansas football players have been arrested on various charges in Houston Nutt's tenure as head coach.

Auburn had a blissful offseason of academic achievement and physical progress. Players got attention for the good things they did instead of showing up in police reports.

That doesn't happen by accident.

Tuberville and his players celebrate a bowl victory.

Criticize Tommy Tuberville, if you must, for too many blowouts, for not getting over the hump and winning a championship, for sometimes saying things he probably wishes he hadn't.

But where it matters most, Tuberville is at his best. When he talks about character being as important as athletic ability in the recruiting process, he means it. He doesn't just talk the talk. He walks the walk.

I'm not expert enough to watch the first day, or any day, of football practice and say with any degree of certainty who did well and who didn't. But I can say that the freshmen who came to talk in the Anthony J. Rane Reception Room on Thursday were a group of impressive young men. I can't tell you that Booker will ever be a starting quarterback at Auburn, but after visiting with him, I can tell you with a great degree of confidence that he will be a successful person.

I can tell you that Auburn football players, to a man, are well-spoken, polite and represent themselves, their families and their school with honor and dignity. I can tell you that Tuberville demands the same kind of effort in the classroom that he demands on the field.

It really is about character.

I saw character last year in Ben Obomanu when he walked out, eyes red, to face reporters after he dropped the touchdown pass that would have beaten Ole Miss.

I've seen it for five years in Jason Campbell, who has responded to unfair and unjustified criticism by working hard and refusing to give in to adversity.

I've seen it in Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams, who passed up the lure of big money to spend another year at their school with their teammates.

I heard it in Carlos Rogers' voice when he said, "My parents have been taking care of me for 23 years. I want to put myself in position to take care of them."

I see it in Bret Eddins, one of those graduates, who succeeds on and off the field out of sheer determination and desire.

I see it in linebacker Travis Williams, who shows the way for his teammates on the field, in the weight room and in the classroom.

I saw it in Gadsden earlier this summer when Williams told children from area housing projects to dare to dream, to stay focused on their goals and never give up.

The list could go on and on.

Auburn players have found trouble and been arrested in the past. They will be again. No coach can bat 1.000. But Tuberville and his assistants try. They really do believe that they are helping boys become men. They really do believe they can have an impact on the lives of the players who come their way.

In the end, isn't that what really counts?


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