The Tigers' returning starter at center is having a strong spring training as he takes on a serious challenge for the No. 1 job from sophomore Danny Lindsey.
Interestingly, this is just the second spring training that the fifth-year senior has been able to participate in because of injuries. Last spring, Nowland was sidelined after having surgery to repair a damaged hand. The previous year he won the Most Improved Offensive Lineman Award in spring training and in 1999, as a redshirt freshman, he was still recovering from a broken bone in his foot and missed spring workouts.
"If I play in this year, this will be only my second A-Day Game, so that will be exciting," says Nowland. "It is definitely important to get the work in during spring training. From my experience competing with Cole (Cubelic) in the 2000 season, me getting the reps in spring training with Cole out with an injury definitely helped me. The injury definitely hurt him so being healthy is a good thing."
That is particularly true with true sophomore Lindsey making a move. New offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino says that center is currently the strongest position on the offensive front with those two players battling for a starting job. "Danny is really pushing," Nowland says. "But, that is good. It gives us depth and it makes me work hard, plus, if something does happen, everyone will feel more secure when he goes in."
Nowland says he feels like he is having a good spring and picking up the new offense. When asked what the biggest difference for him this season is, he says, "The biggest change is flipping the lines (strongside and weakside instead of left and right) and knowing where the strength is. We used to do that, and then we went away from it, and now we have come back to it. The blocking schemes are pretty much the same as before, they just have different names."
Nowland snaps the football to Jason Campbell in last season's victory over the Ole Miss Rebels.
Nowland, a 6-3, 298-pounder, started 11 games last season. He missed the Vanderbilt contest with a knee sprain suffered in the first half of the Syracuse game. He started 10 times the previous season and was a reserve who played in all 11 games as a redshirt freshman. He even played briefly early in the 1998 season when Terry Bowden was the head coach, however, he suffered a broken bone in his foot and received a medical hardship redshirt.
"I enjoy the new offense," Nowland says. "I like it a lot. We have a bunch of pass protections that seem like they will be able to pick up every blitz. We have a bunch of fundamentals we are working on getting down and getting sound as a group."
With 2001 starters Hart McGarry, Mike Pucillo and Kendall Simmons being seniors last fall, the offensive front is being rebuilt. "I think we have got a lot of potential, Nowland says. "Everybody who has been swapped around in the positions are all talented and they are all strong. It is just a matter of finding the right combinations, learning the offense and we will do well."
Nowland, who is strong in the classroom, finished his degree work in industrial design following fall semester. He is now taking classes in that same subject area as a graduate student. "I doubled up my load over the summer so I could graduate after the fall and that helped out a great deal," Nowland says. "Things are going well and I am feeling good about the future."
Nobody on the 2002 Auburn team is more qualified to discuss the state of the Tigers than Nowland, who has played for three different head coaches and two position coaches.
"Things are definitely headed in a positive direction," he says. "A lot more people are stepping up and being vocal and taking leadership positions. That will have to continue to get better for us to be successful, but everybody is positive. The guys on defense are having fun. The guys on offense are having fun. We are running some new plays and we are ready to get after it.
"I am trying to be a leader," Nowland adds. "I am trying my best."
Tiger Ticket Extra: At Wednesday's practice, the seventh of the spring, Nowland worked on his shotgun snaps for the first time since the 2001 season. Petrino, who doubles as quarterback coach, has been calling all of the plays this spring with the QBs lined up directly behind center...Nowland is one of just two seniors on the offensive line. The other is a very familiar face. Walk-on Ryan Hockett played on the offensive and defensive line with Nowland at Nease High School in St. Augustine, Fla. Hockett transferred to Auburn to play on the defensive front, but he has been moved to offense and is having a good spring at guard, where he is currently running second string. Hockett played two seasons as a defensive end at Jacksonville University in Florida and was there for that college's inaugural season of football before transferring to Auburn. He added weight and worked at defensive tackle before being switched to the OL...Nowland is growing his hair long with the intention of donating it to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the American Cancer Society to be used to make wigs for children who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy treatments.
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