Nice Start For Rookie Running Back

Ben Tate is looking to earn playing time as a true freshman tailback.

Auburn, Ala.--Seventeen-year-old running back Ben Tate, who graduated from high school just two months ago, woke up with butterflies in his stomach Saturday morning and was more than a little nervous at the thought of suiting up for his first Auburn scrimmage.

"I was a little nervous, of course," he said. "I just needed to get hit, and then I was okay. The first hit I got was from (sophomore linebacker) Merrill Johnson. I was off-balance and he stuck me pretty hard. I was like okay, I've been hit. Now I'm ready to play."

The rookie running back shouldn't have been worried.

He was the leading rusher in Auburn's scrimmage inside Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday, rushing for 61 yards on 13 carries. His longest run was a 20-yard sprint past Auburn defenders.

Running back Kenny Irons carried the ball nine times for 54 yards, Brad Lester rushed for 39 yards on 13 carries and Carl Stewart rushed 12 times for 32 yards.

"Ben Tate ran the ball hard," Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said. "Ben's done a good job. He's got a lot to learn. The players are behind him. They know his situation and they're very encouraging."

Tate's situation is this: The 5-foot-11, 214-pound freshman from Newark, Maryland, graduated from high school in December, began classes at Auburn in January and officially signed with the Tigers in February. He started spring training last week, joining a heavily loaded arsenal of running backs, including last year's SEC star Kenny Irons.

A rushing lineup featuring Irons, Brad Lester, Tre Smith and Carl Stewart should have been intimidating, but Tate wasn't fazed at all. Despite his youth and inexperience, he showed speed, strength and calm confidence as he worked his way through the Auburn defense.

"He was pretty good," said Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges. "When we gave him some room to run he did a nice job. I think he's going to be a really good football player."

And now, with his first big scrimmage behind him, the butterflies are all gone.

"Yeah," he grinned. "I'm not nervous now. I had heard so much about how hard Auburn hits, but it wasn't that bad. Now I know I can take it."

Tate said his new teammates, especially his fellow running backs, have been most helpful as he's leaned on them to help him learn Auburn's offensive schemes.

"Everyone's been so cool," he said. "They're all cool. It's been great. I'm having fun."


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