It's Big Game Week For Tiger Senior

Auburn, Ala.--For Auburn senior linebacker Travis Williams, Auburn's football game vs. the University of South Carolina is as big as it gets. Saturday night's showdown with the Gamecocks is more than just another SEC test. It's personal.

Williams, who grew up near the USC campus and was a star player at Spring Valley High, will never forget being snubbed by the hometown Gamecocks when he was being recruited as a high school senior.

He signed with Auburn and following a redshirt season he is starting for a third straight year and as a junior he was a first team All-SEC selection for the SEC champions.

Williams set school records at Spring Valley High for tackles in one game (24), one season (160) and for a career (297) and he is still held in high regard back at SVHS.

However, then USC coach Lou Holtz and former defensive coordinator Charlie Strong (now at Florida) decided Williams was too small to play linebacker for the Gamecocks. However, former Auburn defensive coordinator John Lovett saw something special in Williams and had linebacker coach Joe Whitt check him out. Whitt liked the linebacker enough to offer a scholarship and says he is glad he did.

"Travis has been a tremendous player and a tremendous leader for us," the veteran coach says.

Williams, who missed the Ball State game with an injury, was back in action for Auburn's homecoming victory over Western Kentucky. The senior says he is not full speed yet, but is working on it.

"I was around 85 to 90 percent," Williams notes. "I could go forward and laterally all right, but back-pedaling and planting off it..."

For the All-SEC senior, it is time to go full speed ahead for game five vs. South Carolina.

"For five years, this has been my game," he says as Auburn prepares to face the Gamecocks for the first time since winning at Columbia in 1997. "Every week I go out when we play games it is business," says Williams, who is known for his intensity on game days. "This week it is personal.

"I always wanted to go there," Williams says of South Carolina. "They recruited me at the end, but didn't offer me a scholarship. This one is a big one for me--real big."

In Auburn's 37-14 victory over Western Kentucky, he had one of the most impressive plays when he ran back an interception for a touchdown, only to have it called back due to a block in the back penalty.

Travis Williams heads to the end zone with his interception vs. Western Kentucky.

Williams made several nice moves on his way to the end zone to avoid tacklers or a break away from them. He says it reminded him of high school when he got to carry the football at times. "That turf toe is holding me back," Williams says. "I am a little quicker than that."

Last year, with Williams leading the team in tackles, Auburn had the nation's top-ranked scoring defense. The linebacker says his team isn't playing at the 2004 level right now.

"As a whole, we are striding," he says. "We are getting a little better every week. Coach Gibbs (defensive coordinator David Gibbs) and our coaching staff are doing a great job of getting us ready. Next week we have to be ready."

The starters like Williams and the second stringers gave the Tigers a chance to get a second shutout this season, but Western Kentucky scored two fourth quarter TDs. Williams was not amused.

"They have to understand that they are part of the team defense out there," he says of the second, third and even fourth stringers who were on the field in the fourth quarter. "Giving up 14 points is unacceptable."

Williams says the theme for this week's game defensively is to play hard and have a good time while doing. He notes that Gibbs gave the team a speech about doing that. "He said that's what we are here for to play college football and play a game we love."

The linebacker says if the Tigers follow that formula, more wins are on the way for his 3-1 team that is 1-0 in the SEC. "I think we are a long ways away from where we could be, but every week we try to get better."

Williams notes that starting tailback Kenny Irons is also pumped for Saturday night's game. Irons signed with South Carolina and stayed there two seasons before becoming disenchanted with the program and leaving for Auburn, where he sat out last year as a redshirt.

"I have got a lot of stuff built up in me and me and Kenny were talking about it early this week," he says of this week's SEC contest. "I know he has been through a lot and me, with the stuff I have been through always wanting to be a Gamecock and not being offered, this is just something I have been waiting for."

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