Auburn, Ala.--It didn't take long during two-a-day practices to figure out that freshman Craig Stevens could play the linebacker position. With both Kevin Sears and Tray Blackmon out because of suspensions the Tigers were looking for someone to step up and Stevens was their man.
Despite just learning the defense on the go the Tallahassee, Fla. native stepped on the scene and immediately announced his presence with several good practices early in fall camp. His play was good enough that he quickly saw time on the field, playing several series against Mississippi State.
Unfortunately for Stevens and the Tigers that's when the injury bug hit. Suffering from a pulled hamstring, Stevens missed the rest of the season and was forced to watch while his teammates picked up the slack on defense. Back on the field and hitting for the first time in over two months on Thursday Stevens says it felt good to be back in the mix once again.
"It has been a while for me so I have to knock the rust off," Stevens says. "I'm looking to play the best I can play really. I just want to do good.
"It has been a while, especially for me, Mario (Fannin) and Zac Etheridge (both players were injured early in the season as well and redshirted). It has been a while for us. It felt good to finally get out there and start hitting again."
Stevens is up 10 pounds since August and says he hopes to gain another 10 before next fall.
While he missed much of the year Stevens did get to experience what life in the SEC is all about. Because of that he says that the time spent watching this season was made more bearable because he already knows what to expect and what he needs to do in order to survive a SEC schedule.
"It hurt at first but after a while when you get through it you see how it can help you out," Stevens says. "You get an extra year. I think it will turn out better in the long run.
"I think it helped a lot," he adds on his playing time. "I got to see how the feel of the game was. It got me a little more confident as to knowing what I could do in the games. It helped me a lot."
One thing playing showed Stevens was that he needed to gain weight in order to be the kind of player he wanted to be for the Tigers. Because of that he dedicated himself to adding weight this fall. When he first showed up on the Auburn campus Stevens was just over 200 pounds but now he says he's on his way to hopefully 230 before next fall.
"I'm up to 218 or 220, somewhere around in there," Stevens says. "I felt a little better (with the added weight). When we were first running I had to get adjusted a little bit. We had been running in the off season but I had to get used to it in pads. After a while it felt like normal."
Stevens is one of the many young defensive players that has been impressive this fall despite very little playing time. With redshirt freshmen Aairon Savage, Tray Blackmon and Sen'Derrick Marks starting on defense and several other key reserves either freshmen or sophomores Stevens says the future is bright for the Auburn defense and he can't wait until they get a chance to shine.
"I sit back and think about it now," Stevens says. "We're going to be real good in the future. We've got a whole bunch of young defensive players. We've got Savage out there playing as a freshman. There's Tray Blackmon and Trahan is getting some reps. We've got just about every body coming back. I think we'll be real good in the future with all that young talent."