Auburn Coaches Appreciate Linebacker's True Grit

Auburn, Ala.--While most of his teammates had enough energy late Saturday night to dance and celebrate clinching a spot in the SEC Football Championship Game, one of the Tigers who played a major role in helping his team earn a trip to the conference title game in Atlanta just wanted to rest.

On a hot and humid evening in Oxford, Miss., Travis Williams left just about all of the energy he had that night on the AstroPlay artificial turf as he helped his Tigers improve to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the SEC with a 35-14 victory over the Ole Miss Rebels.

Earlier in the day Williams was feeling ill and he didn't eat. By halftime he was so dehydrated that he was given fluids intravenously before heading out of the locker room for the second half.

His ill health didn't seem to slow the junior too much. Williams led all tacklers in the game with 12 stops and was named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his performance.

Auburn's defensive coordinator, Gene Chizik, knew immediately after the final whistle how special the performance was by the junior middle linebacker. Chizik broke away from a group of celebrating Tigers at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and walked over to Williams and gave the 6-1, 214-pounder a bear hug. The defensive coach told the linebacker that he appreciated the effort he had just witnessed.

Nobody appreciates the junior any more than Joe Whitt, Auburn's veteran linebacker coach, who has had more than his share of talented players at AU since joining the staff in 1981. He says that Williams is one of the really good ones he has coached.

"Travis is a tough guy," Whitt tells Inside the Auburn Tigers "His presence and play has been outstanding. I am proud of our linebackers period. Travis has just been as solid as rock and as a junior he has shown more leadership than most juniors I have been around. He has taken over the defense and takes responsibility for things going right on the field."

Whitt says that he can count on a strong performance from his middle linebacker week after week. "He plays very consistently and he is good every week," Whitt notes. "Travis is just a great, great, great kid. He wouldn't come out of the game even though he had an IV at halftime. He came back out and said, ‘Coach, I can go.' And he did. He didn't just play. He played very well."

Travis Williams (left) talks to defensive end Stanley McClover (right).

Williams says he enjoys the role as the tough middle linebacker. "A lot of guys on the team call me Machine because all during the summer I run," Williams says. "I tell the guys you have to be like a machine. They kind of get on me if I get a shoulder injury or something. They say, ‘The machine is breaking.' I say, ‘Nah, I just have a loose wire.' That is one of those things where we are having fun."

The official statistics at the game in Oxford listed Williams with 12 tackles, but in breaking down the game videos Whitt counted 14 stops for the junior, who was an ironman. He was on the field for 78 snaps including action on special teams. "After the game I went to sleep I was so tired," says Williams, who has already reminded his teammates that there are many more challenges left for this team.

On the field, Williams was as alert as he could be and he also tried to display no signs of weakness. "It is one of those situations being a middle linebacker, I can't really show when I am tired and stuff like that because I have guys watching me," he says. "That was one of the toughest games I have ever played as far as like being tired. It was physical and everything. In the SEC, you shouldn't expect anything less than that."

After playing nine straight weeks without a break, the Tigers have an open date this Saturday before playing at home the following week against Georgia in a renewal of the SEC's oldest rivalry. Williams says the team can use a week off from competition. "We have a lot of guys in the training room with bumps and bruises," the linebacker says. "This week we are going to really need to get our legs back."

With the Tigers practicing just three days this week and taking four days off, Williams says that personally he is going to continue to focus on football. "We are so close," he says. "We can't take a step back. I am in the film room myself. I am going to try to encourage other guys to watch film on Georgia and just focus on Georgia."

Williams leads the Tigers with 56 tackles this season.

Williams says that the victory over an Ole Miss team, which had two weeks to prepare for the Tigers, was not easy. "It was one of those SEC 12 rounders," he says. "Ole Miss came out ready to play. I was cramping up. It was so hot and muggy out there, but I couldn't come off the field. It is easy to go out and play when everything is going well and we are whipping people. I knew the team needed me out there."

Williams wasn't the only linebacker playing at less than 100 percent efficiency last week. The starting outside linebackers, Kevin Sears and Antarrious Williams, were both slowed with shoulder problems. Sears was held out of the Kentucky game, but returned to the lineup for the Ole Miss game.

"I am so proud of Kevin and Antarrious," Whitt says. "Both of them had some nicks and bruises and just went in and played. Kevin played until he couldn't play any more. I looked over on the sideline and I saw tears coming out. I said, ‘Hey son, you are done.' I didn't know he was hurt that bad. He bruised the other shoulder--not the one he came into the game with it hurting him.

"Karibi Dede came in and picked up the slack like he did a week earlier when Kevin was out," Whitt says. "Derrick Graves came in there and has been playing well. Mayo Sowell played well, too. I told all of the guys that were in the Ole Miss game that they played really well and took care of their role the way it is supposed to be done. I told them they need to continue to do it and do it even better."

Auburn, which is ranked third in both major polls this week, is also ranked third in the BCS standings. The Tigers have just two regular season games left. The Tigers will play Georgia at 2:30 p.m. a week from Saturday in a nationally televised contest and will travel to Alabama a week later. After that the road goes to the Georgia Dome on Dec. 4th where Auburn will represent the SEC West vs. the SEC East champion, which will likely be the Tennessee Volunteers unless the Vols are upset by either Vanderbilt or Kentucky.

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