Sometimes it comes naturally to a player at an early age and is always present. Other times it's developed out of necessity. Such is the case of Auburn senior middle linebacker Mark Brown.
With a serious shortage of seniors on this season's squad, the usually quiet Brown has taken over as the defensive leader since spring practice when he started to be a more vocal player both on and off the field.
While that role began to take shape during the spring, it has blossomed during a grueling summer that has been as tough as any in recent memory on the Auburn campus. A veteran of five summer conditioning sessions since his arrival in the summer of 1998, Brown notes that he sees something different with this year's training regimen and team.
"I don't think being a leader is something I wanted to do," Brown tells Inside The Auburn Tigers following his normal 5:30 a.m. workout. "Me being a senior and being here so long it's kind of forced on you and I accepted it. I'm not really a vocal leader, at least I haven't been in past years. But working out with all the other seniors in years past and seeing how they work hard it's kind of something that builds inside of you. Seeing how they lead you automatically follow their example and you try to be a good leader when it's your turn.
Brown (left) works out on this summer in a pass coverage drill with fellow linebacker Dontarrious Thomas (right).
"We gripe and moan right now because it's hot," he notes about the workouts. "It's during the summer and we complain a lot about all the running because we feel like it's a whole bunch, but during the season we feel like we're in great shape. Like last season halfway through the year we felt like we weren't that tired. Even though you have to go through pain to get there, it's worth it."
Mark Brown played last season with a broken bone in his hand.
Despite missing all of three games and parts of three more with a neck sprain, the 6-2, 243 Brown finished fifth on the team with 55 tackles. His best performance of the year came against Mississippi State when he had 13 tackles on the way to being named the defensive player of the week by the coaching staff. While his up and down performance mirrored the team, Brown says that this year the team is looking for bigger and better things. That is especially true of Brown and the senior class as a whole, which is hoping to set the stage for bigger and better things down the road for the Tigers.
"Last year we feel like we didn't meet our expectations for the goals we had last year," Brown says. "This year we just want to come out rolling and finish up strong, which we didn't do last year. This year I think we've got real high expectations. We've talked of winning the national championship. The team wants to go out strong and leave their mark here, keep this program going up not going down. It kind of took a step back last year and we want to take a leap next year and surprise a whole bunch of people."
If the Tigers hope to get anywhere close to playing for the national title then Yoxall and his staff will have been a big part in the resurgence this fall. Keeping the work ethic at a feverish pace this summer, the strength and conditioning staff push the players to their limits on a daily basis. Brown says that when Yoxall arrived on the Auburn campus in 1999 that he didn't have any idea what was in store for him.
"My legs have always been pretty strong, but when Coach Yox got here we were strong but we weren't as strong as we are now," Brown says of the team as a whole. "We work a lot on running and endurance, a lot of legs. The thing that has gotten the strongest in my body since I've been here is my legs. Coach Yox thinks your body should be overall strong, not just one spot, so you work on the overall strength of your body."
This summer's time in the weight room and on the field running takes on even more importance than normal because of the unusual early schedule facing the Tigers. With four games in 18 days to open the season, beginning with a trip to Top 25 opponent USC in Los Angeles and ending with a road trip to Starkville to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs, the Tigers must be in top shape when they report for two-a-days. Because of short work weeks and recovery time they can't afford to have players not in top condition or they will already be behind the eight ball for the 2002 season.
"It makes it a real big priority because we're going to have to be in real good shape for those four games because we have in a short amount of time," Brown says. "We think if we can get through those four games then we'll be alright. Coach Yox is really emphasizing getting ready for the first game and how we'll be the only team playing on Monday night on national television. We want to show a lot of people what we're about. We're looking forward to that and we've been working hard to get ready for it."
Editor's Note: Part two is scheduled to be published on Friday.