Marshall: Reality Bites for Football Freshman

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn football Tigers.

For a lot of Auburn freshmen, reality bit hard Thursday.

"This is a tough day for a lot of young guys," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville mused before the start of practice.

It was the day they found out that their roles in the 2006 season will be to play on the scout team, to give those who will play on Saturdays a picture of what they will see. Their dreams of stardom have been put on hold.

Talk to most any fifth-year senior in college football and he'll tell you that redshirt year was what he needed, that it was a worthwhile experience. But it's hard to see that when you are 18 or 19 years old and you have just survived your first preseason camp.

Consider the roller-coaster they have ridden for the past year.

There's not a freshman in Auburn's signing class who wasn't a high school star. They are accustomed to success on the field and praise and adulation off the field. Just last February, they were posing with family and friends as they signed their scholarships. There were stories written about them in newspapers and on Internet sites. They arrived on campus full of hope and enthusiasm, only to learn that nobody cared how many stars recruiting services had put beside their names.

Some--like quarterbacks Neil Caudle and Steven Ensminger--arrived knowing they would probably be redshirted. Most came to town believing they could earn playing time their first season. The schools recruiting them did nothing to discourage that notion.

And now they are on the scout team. Instead of preparing on Saturday mornings to play, they'll participate in strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall's dreaded redshirt workouts.

It's another step in the exceedingly demanding journey traveled by those who play this game loved so much by so many.

Wide receiver Tim Hawthorne, one of the crown jewels of Auburn's recruiting class, hasn't been sent to the scout team. But he still could be. Like his classmates, he has learned hard and painful lessons in the past month.

There's nothing quite as eye-opening and challenging for a college football player as his first preseason camp.

"You have to learn to adapt," Hawthorne said. "I think I've done that pretty well. It was harder than what I thought it was going to be. I had some downfalls. As far as preparing for this, you really can't. You just have to go a day at a time and do what you have to do."

Almost every player would be better off in the end to be redshirted. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp likes to ask them if they think they are a better player today or will be better as a fifth-year senior.

Four years of getting bigger, stronger and faster can't do anything but help. Just imagine if former wide receivers Ben Obomanu and Devin Aromashodu had redshirted in 2002 and were back for one more Auburn season.

Freshman Mike Berry from Brentwood, Tenn., Academy is a player who may see action as a true freshman although his position coach, Hugh Nall, hopes he can redshirt the talented young player.

Linemen, in particular, are almost always better off being redshirted. A 19-year-old freshman is at a distinct disadvantage playing against a 22- or 23-year-old man in the trenches.

Being a redshirted is not a reflection on a player's ability or his future in the program.

Ronnie Brown was redshirted, surprised a lot of people by coming back for his fifth year, and was the second player chosen in the 2005 NFL draft. For Brown, it could be argued that being redshirted ended up being worth $10 million or more.

Just think what former defensive end Bret Eddins, one of the heroes of the 13-0 run in 2004, would have missed had he played a bit part as a true freshman in the 2000 season. His brother, Bart, is an Auburn freshman going through the same thing this season.

College football coaches strongly support the idea of simply giving everyone five years of eligibility. In that scenario, even those who are on the scout team would have hope of earning at least a little playing time. But that idea hasn't gone anywhere with those who make such decisions.

Instead, for most players in college football's fastest lane, being redshirted is part of the rite of passage.

Until next time...

2006 Inside the Auburn Tigers Auburn Football Guide

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