Cope's Story What Makes College Football Special

Phillip Marshall talks about how Joe Cope has worked his way from way too small, to unheralded walk-on, to starting center and more.

At 277 pounds, Joe Cope isn't big enough. At something considerably shorter than his listed height of 6-foot-2, he's not tall enough.

Yet Cope is Auburn's first-team center, and barring something unexpected, will be the starter against Georgia Tech on Sept. 3. It's not because someone else isn't good enough.

Want to know the real reason Cope has moved to the top of the depth chart? Listen to guard Ben Grubbs:

"Joe has been an underdog since he's been here. I love Joe to death. He's a fighter. I know for a fact if I have any problems I can call on Joe and he'll be there."

The Joe Copes of the world are what make college football special.

As a senior at Andalusia High School, Cope had few of the attributes for which college recruiters look. He had no scholarship offers. Zero. Troy took a look and looked elsewhere. So did Southern Mississippi.

"Too small," they all said. Cope wasn't buying it. He didn't buy it then and he doesn't buy it now. He walked on at Auburn because he'd grown up an Auburn fan. If he was going to test himself, he wanted to test himself against the best. He survived two seasons of Kevin Yoxall's infamous Saturday morning redshirt workouts. He toiled on the scout team, looking for a glimmer of hope.

Somewhere along the way, offensive line coach Hugh Nall began to take notice. He saw a guy who was as tough and hard-nosed as anyone, who picked things up quickly and was a favorite of his more-celebrated teammates. Cope began to get more chances. His quickness gave defensive linemen problems, and his knowledge of the offense was second to none.

By last season, Cope had become the No. 3 center. He played for the first time in the opener against Louisiana-Monroe. He made all the trips. But even then, not many would have given him much of a chance to ever be the starting center.

As preseason practice started, Steven Ross was the starter. Leon Hart got some time at center, as did Jonathan Palmer. Cope kept pushing, consistently grading well. It was fitting that he found out he was the starter as he stayed late to watch extra tape last Saturday night.

Cope called his father and called Jeremy Ingle. His father supported him in his pursuit of a dream and Ingle gave him hope that the dream could come true. Ingle was a walk-on who became the starting center on Auburn's 13-0 team last season.

Joe Cope looks over the defensive front before a snap in Saturday's scrimmage

Cope, a junior in eligibility, is still a walk-on. That could change if a scholarship becomes available, but there are no guarantees. Whether he gets a scholarship this year or next, Cope has proved the naysayers wrong.

Even when things were bleak, when he was so far down the depth chart he couldn't see the top, Cope believed hard work, dedication and determination would get him where he wanted to go. He refused to listen to those who said he couldn't do it.

And he did it.

There are those still who fret that he doesn't fit the profile of an SEC center, who say the defending SEC champion shouldn't have a walk-on as its starting center.

Nall doesn't have to have a walk-on as his starting center. He has one because Joe Cope made it happen.

"He's a great person," Nall said. "He's smart and he's tough. He's just a really good football player."

That's why he's the first-team center.

Moving on …

It was good to see that Ronnie Brown finally signed with the Miami Dolphins. Maybe he didn't get all he wanted, but my guess is he'll be able to get by on his $19 million signing bonus.

Brown might not be as far behind as some think. He had 29 practices with the Dolphins in minicamps. After being around him for four years, I don't have any doubt Brown will be ready to run when the time comes...

Once again an Auburn player is making a mockery of recruiting rankings. Freshman defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks was not highly recruited out of Vigor High School. He was better-known for basketball than football.

Yet Marks has been one of the highlights of preseason practice at a position where it is extremely difficult for true freshmen to break through. He has convinced Auburn coaches he can be something special...

Want to know how good Auburn's chances are of going 13-0 again? No SEC team has ever put perfect seasons, including bowl games, back to back.

Until next time …

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