Freshman Tight Ends Looking For Big Finish

Redshirt freshmen Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie talk about their first season of play and getting ready for the Cotton Bowl.

Dallas, Tex.--Coming into the 2006 season the Auburn Tigers were counting on veteran Cole Bennett to carry the load at tight end while redshirt freshmen Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie eased into the playing rotation during the season.

Things didn't work out quite like the AU coaches had hoped though as Bennett broke a bone in his ankle in the first half of the LSU game, forcing the duo into extensive action right away.

While things weren't always rosy and mistakes were made along the way, both Trott and McKenzie delivered for Auburn's offense when called upon. Combining to catch 22 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns, Trott and McKenzie give the Tigers a solid receiving tandem at the tight end position heading into the New Year's Day showdown with Nebraska.

The game will be yet another learning experience for both freshmen as they are going through their first bowl practices as playing members of the team. Trott says with just last year's Capital One Bowl experience to go on he feels a different attitude around the team this week as the Tigers try to end the season on a positive note.

"You are here for a different reason," Trott says. "Last year we were down there and the game wasn't so much on your mind. Your job was on the scout team to help the team get prepared. You know you don't physically have to play the game. This year is a different mindset. You have to work. We're going to try to outwork Nebraska during the week and hopefully that will carry over to the game.

"I was around last year and you can tell there is a different mentality. We had a 12 o'clock curfew Tuesday night and I don't think we had a curfew the first night last year. They want to make sure we got practice off on the good foot. It's a different mentality and for me the reason we're down here is to play the game."

McKenzie vividly remembers standing on the field as the clock ticked down last year in the loss to Wisconsin. Watching as his teammates struggled in vain to get something going on both offense and defense, McKenzie says he and the team are working hard to make sure that feeling doesn't come around again this year.

"Last year on the sidelines I was watching my team and the seniors frustrated at halftime because nothing was working," McKenzie says. "I was on the sidelines wishing I could do something to help. I just felt bad for the team. This year I'm going out there and do the best I can to help the team win the game."

Gabe McKenzie is a physical blocker who has improved his pass receiving skills.

What both Trott and McKenzie have done this season is put the entire burden of the tight end position directly on their shoulders and help the Tigers to a 10-win season. Now well rested after taking several weeks off following the victory over Alabama in the Iron Bowl, Trott says that the grind Auburn experienced this season is something he had heard about, but still didn't expect until it happened.

"What people don't understand is that in the SEC there are no off games," Trott says. "You can play a 1-8 Mississippi State team and that game is going to be close and it's going to be physical. It just wears on you. No matter who you play during the season by that ninth or 10th week without a bye week your legs are about gone and you can't stop practicing. That was the biggest thing for me was the wear and tear on your body. You hear people say it, but you don't really believe it until you experience it."

When Auburn's offense lines up against the Cornhuskers on Monday it's a pretty safe bet that either Trott's number five or McKenzie's number 83 or both will be on the field and working to help the Tigers to a victory. Trott says that's the ultimate goal for the Cotton Bowl because not only would it send the seniors out with a bang, it could also sets the tone for next season.

"For the seniors it's huge because they want to end their careers with a win," Trott says. "For us this is a national game and a New Year's Day bowl against Nebraska. Every one knows Nebraska with all of the tradition they have there.

"Putting ourselves on a national stage and winning sets us up for next year and years to come. We like to think of ourselves as a powerhouse now and we're in there every year. We want to be in the running for national championships. This is not only a way to cap off the 2006 season but also a way to start off 2007."


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