Football Players Pay A Price

Columnist Phillip Marshall discusses college football, and Auburn football in particular, with opinions on Tiger basketball and baseball, too.

The stories come every summer at just about every school. Football players, some of them with promising careers, up and go home. Some return. Some don't.

Brian Kuhn, a defensive end who signed with Auburn with some fanfare and graduated from high school early to participate in spring practice, has had enough already. David Walker, an offensive lineman who might have been a starter, is apparently on the verge of leaving, too.

I am reminded of a conversation I had several years ago with a former Auburn football player who left the team after his junior year. He was projected as a high draft choice. When I asked him why he did it, his reply was simple but telling. "I'm tired of football," he said. "I've been playing since I was six years old and I don't want to play anymore. I love my teammates and I love my coaches. I'll be pulling for them every Saturday, but I don't want to do it anymore. I don't want to play for Auburn, I don't want to play in the NFL, I just don't want to play."

I have no problem with young men making those decisions. In fact, I admire them for doing what they want to do with their lives and not what somebody else believes they should do. At the same time, I admire those who pay the very significant price to play college football.

It is so easy to carp from a distance, to criticize, to even accuse players of not playing hard enough. I always chuckle when, after a disappointing loss, some fans say their team's players didn't care or didn't play hard. Fans want to win, but they have no idea how badly players who start practice in the sweltering days of early August, who go through grueling physical challenges year-around, want to win. No college sport is easy, but no other sport offers the challenges of body and mind that football does.

Players at Auburn and elsewhere are in summer school now, going through "voluntary" workouts. That word voluntary is a joke. As a coach at another SEC school once said, "Yeah, it's voluntary. It's also voluntary whether I play them next season."

Auburn players will get about a week off between summer workouts and the start of two-a-days. Then comes the season, then the offseason program, then spring, then summer again. It's not for everybody. It apparently wasn't for Brian Kuhn and maybe not for David Walker. But as they leave, their former teammates toil on, working like they never knew they could to prepare for the season that begins at Southern California on Aug. 2.

While you make your plans for a festive weekend in Los Angeles or for tailgating at Auburn, you might want to consider that. And you might want to swallow that boo the next time it wants to come.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

One man's answers to some frequently asked questions:

Q: Is Tommy Tuberville on the hot seat as Auburn's football coach?

A: No. Regardless of what you might hear, those in positions of power remain quite pleased with the direction of Tuberville's program.

Q. Is Cliff Ellis on the hot seat as Auburn's basketball coach?

A: Yes. It would probably be difficult for him to survive another last-place SEC finish.

Q: Who will be Auburn's starting quarterback?

A: I still say Jason Campbell, but that's far from a sure thing. He and Daniel Cobb will settle it in August.

Q: Why was Auburn's baseball team so inconsistent?

A: That's easy. Four freshmen as starting position players would make any team inconsistent.

Q: What happened to Auburn's pitching?

A: That's not so easy. It's a question head coach Steve Renfroe and pitching coach Mark Fuller will strive to answer before next season.

Q: Who will win the SEC West in football this fall?

A: If I had to bet, I'd say LSU. I think Auburn has a real shot, maybe even Arkansas. Alabama would be right there if it was eligible. Forget all the talk about Ole Miss.

Q: Who will win the East?

A: Georgia is the stylish choice. I'll stay with Tennessee. I'm frankly a little mystified what it is about Georgia that so excites people.

Q: How will Ron Zook do at Florida?

A: He'll do well, but it won't be good enough. Not since Ray Perkins followed Bear Bryant at Alabama has an SEC coach had a tougher act to follow.

Q: Who will be the next SEC commissioner.

A: It won't be Mark Womack, and that's unfortunate.

Until next time...


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