Cornerback Looking For Bragging Rights

Junior Jonathan Wilhite talks about playing against his childhood favorite team this weekend.

Auburn, Ala.--This week is tougher than normal for Auburn junior cornerback Jonathan Wilhite. Growing up in Louisiana as a fan of the LSU Tigers, Wilhite will take the field this weekend for the third-ranked Auburn Tigers facing one of the country's most talented offensive units for the sixth-ranked LSU Tigers.

"I was always a LSU fan when I was little," Wilhite says. "Then I went to junior college and didn't really like them too much because of their depth in the secondary when I was coming out. This is going to be a big game for me. I have a lot of people at home looking forward to seeing the game. We'll see what happens."

Auburn's starter opposite senior David Irons, Wilhite has been a mainstay in the lineup since the sixth game of the 2005 season. While most kids dream of the chance to play in a game of this magnitude with two Top 10 programs in action, Wilhite says this is bigger than any dream he had as a youngster in Monroe, La.

"I dreamed about playing ball period," Wilhite says. "Just to be in this situation, two Top 10 schools playing against each other, I'm just blessed to be a part of it. I'm sure those guys are going to go out and represent LSU the best they can and I just want to go out and represent Auburn. Right now we sweat and bleed together and I want to go out and do my job for the other 10 people on the field."

So far this season teams have stayed away from Wilhite for the most part, but expect that to change on Saturday with LSU's size at receiver.

The challenge for Auburn's defense this week steps up a notch or two from the first two weeks of action. While Washington State's offense is capable of putting up points in bunches, they are not the physical unit that LSU brings in this weekend. As for Mississippi State, that offense doesn't even deserve mention.

Wilhite says that although the team has played pretty basically it doesn't mean they've taken anyone lightly in advance of this week's contest.

"We talked about taking it one step at a time," the junior says says. "We knew we had week three coming. In week one we did good against Washington State. We did a little better against Mississippi State. We want to continue to progress every week.

"It's going to be a big challenge and they're one of the best teams we play this year. Me personally, I think this probably could determine the (SEC) West. We've just go to be up for the challenge this weekend.

"I would say the ultimate challenge so far," he adds. "Coach (Will) Muschamp said that they would probably have the best trio of receivers that we'll probably see this year. They've got some veterans, but we played well against them last year. I'm just looking forward to going out there and playing the game."

In addition to the most explosive group of receivers in the SEC, LSU also has perhaps the most physical quarterback in the country in junior Jamarcus Russell. The Mobile native has been outstanding so far this season, completing 70.3 percent of his passes for 449 yards and five touchdowns through two games with only one interception. Wilhite says that what makes the 6-6, 260-plus pound Russell so tough is that he can do so many things in and out of the pocket to hurt a defense.

"JaMarcus has a great arm and is a big guy," Wilhite says. "He's able to deliver balls off balance. He also likes to scramble so you have to stay in coverage. Everybody knows he's a good quarterback. These are the games good cornerbacks want to step up. This is when the stats really matter, if you can make them in a game like this.

"Most quarterbacks scramble to run, but he scrambles to throw the ball," he adds. "You're probably going to have to stay in coverage longer. Being able to throw the ball off balance is a difficult thing for a corner because he can be being sacked and deliver the ball. He delivered a ball last year while he was being sacked. It's going to be hard but we're up for the challenge."

Helping Auburn this week to get ready for LSU's offense is Muschamp. A former coordinator at LSU under Nick Saban, Muschamp is still familiar with much of the personnel that Auburn will see on the field this weekend. Because of that Wilhite says he feels like they've got an edge heading into Saturday's contest.

"It's an advantage because he's been in that ball club and he knows what to expect," Wilhite says. "He introduced us to them and he talked nothing but good things about them. He said they were a great ball club and we're going to get everything we want this weekend. I don't think it's going to be any different though in his eyes. Coach Muschamp is going to be fired up and ready to play no matter who is on the other side of the ball."

It never fails that any championship team in any sport has a special chemistry or bond that carries it through the tough times of a season on the way to a title. Auburn had it in 2004 one year before Wilhite arrived and the junior says he feels something special brewing this season. If he's right then Saturday could be the beginning of the good times for Auburn in 2006.

"Beginning in two-a-days I didn't really see it, but now I see it a lot," Wilhite says. "You can hear the freshmen talk about it because they've never been a part of something. In high school everybody was separated and it was one-man teams

"We're pulling for each other and that's what wins national championships, guys willing to play for each other and willing to back the other person up when he's down. The guys on this team care about each other when they're sick or hurt like Steve Gandy. We've been praying for him. We just care about each other not only on the field but off the field."


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