With the Tigers having to replace three senior starters in tackle Kendall Simmons and guards Mike Pucillo and Hart McGarry, center Ben Nowland is expected to step forward and become the leader on the offensive front. The fifth-year senior says that he looks forward to the challenge."
"Oh‚ man, it's a change because it almost felt like I was in the class that just graduated because I am the only lineman that came in back in '98," he says with a smile. "It will be a change of pace for me to actually get out there and be loud other than just calling the plays and stuff. I have to keep everybody's mind straight and make sure that they are pulling their load."
Ben Nowland is the returning starter at center.
Nowland won praise from his coaches for his good work in spring training and he says he became comfortable with his new role during 15 spring practice days in March and April.
With summer session classes now under way, Nowland is dividing his time between the classroom, strength training and the practice field. Nowland is taking two classes, photography and rendering, for his major, which is industrial design. The 6-3, 298-pounder wants to make sure it is known just exactly what his major is. "The last time I did an interview someone put interior design and I was like scratch that," he says with emphasis.
The Tigers don't officially start preseason drills until August, but for Nowland and the other Tigers practice or some type of physical training is basically a year-around project so they can compete in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference. "I'm just doing the scheduled workouts and then you have to come up here and do some work on your own like go over your steps and watch film to make sure you recognize the defensive fronts," he says after an early morning session at the football complex.
Nowland notes that he is currently working on his technique on the field. "The quarterbacks, receivers and running backs have a passing practice where they go out and run and throw routes," he says. "And I'll go out there with them to snap to the quarterbacks just to make sure we have our timing down and work on steps to make sure we don't fumble any snaps."
A role as a leader on the offensive front is not the only major change for Nowland this season. With new coordinator Bob Petrino bringing a different offensive scheme with him from the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, spring training was a learning experience, even for veterans like Nowland.
The new offense means new blocking schemes and Nowland says he likes what he has learned. "I think it will help us out. He (Petrino) took a lot of responsibility off of me with making checks and put it on the quarterback. And, depending on how well they recognize the front, we have protections that will pick up whatever type of blitz a team can throw at us."
Despite watching his offense being outplayed by the defense for most of the spring, Nowland is upbeat about the potential for the Tigers on offense this fall. "I'm real confident," Nowland says. "He (Petrino) is like all-knowing almost when you hear him talk about schemes so it's going to be fun to get out there and see what we can do."
Nowland says the offense's progress was very noticeable during spring drills. "It started off kind of shaky and kind of slow because we had a lot of youth out there," Nowland says. "But toward the end, I think we really started to pick it up pretty well. And going through two-a-days we'll really see how much we've learned through spring and how far we've come."
Nowland has seen the Tigers' football fortunes go up and down and up and down some more in his time at Auburn. However, he says he is very happy with his college choice. "When I came on my visit, I just knew this was where I was meant to come," he says. "This is an awesome campus and the people here are great. It was weird because I was at ease here instead of the other places where I visited where I felt like I didn't fit in."
With all of the time Nowland has to spend working on his classes and football, that doesn't leave a lot of free hours. The Tiger center does enjoy helping others less fortunate than he is and one way he can do that is by participating in a program for seriously ill children. "I'm growing my hair out to donate it to Locks of Love, which makes wigs for cancer patients," he says. "I was watching a TV show one day and this little girl had donated her hair and I was kind of growing it out anyway and my mom said you could do that and kind of pitched the idea to me."
Nowland (left) and Kendall Simmons (right) wait for the offense to get the call in the Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome.
Nowland and the Tigers are scheduled to begin preseason practices on August 8th in preparation for the Sept. 2nd opener at Southern Cal. When asked if he has an opinion about whether he will be doing more run blocking or pass blocking that night, Nowland laughs and then says, "I don't know." However, he did give a clue. "With his (Petrino's) offense, he does run it enough to where it sets up the pass. He'll run it maybe 20-30 times a game, but with the backs that we have that should be enough."