AU Signee Successful Despite No Football

This is the story of an Auburn football signee who found his road to success in college despite having the chance to play football taken away before he could even start.

Auburn, Ala.--When Justin Bruce arrived on the Auburn University campus in the summer of 2002, it is doubtful that there was any member of Coach Tommy Tuberville's signee class more excited about playing college football than the big tight end.

A six-foot-nine athlete from Pepperell High School in Lindale, Ga., Bruce arrived at AU as an intriguing prospect who ran exceptionally well for a big man. He was a standout in football and track and field as a hurdler.

However, almost immediately after he arrived on campus he received distressing news. Auburn's team doctors discovered a medical problem in his neck area that made it too risky for him to continue to play football or any contact sport. A blow to the wrong spot on his neck could have disastrous consequences.

"When I came to Auburn I was going to play football, but I found off right off the bat that wasn't going to happen," says Bruce, who picked up his Auburn University undergraduate degree in December.

Now back on campus taking more classes, he is doing it as a graduate student and he still plans to stay close to Auburn football.

"The counselors here at the athletic complex really kept my spirits up and kept me going," Bruce says. "I guess I realized I was here to do bigger and better things. I did. I stayed and I have got my degree now. I am going to continue my education in the graduate program here and even though football didn't work out it was good for me because it got me to Auburn for another reason.

"I hope to get my graduate degree in counseling so it is really a blessing that I will be working with Troy Smith, the academic counselor, to get some hands on experience," Bruce says.

Justin Bruce (right) is shown in a workout with former Tiger Cooper Wallace prior to the start of his his freshman year at Auburn.

Tuberville says he is glad that Bruce didn't let a major hurdle in his life sidetrack the athlete.

"Justin was one of those unusual deals," Tuberville says of Bruce. "We were really fired up about Justin coming in and playing for us as either a tight end or an offensive lineman.

"He had a lot of ability, but when he came in he wasn't able to pass the physical," Tuberville remembers. "Obviously, we weren't going to put him in harm's way. He stayed here with us and earned his degree. He's an Auburn guy and it is just like he has been playing for us. He really wanted to play, but the doctors wouldn't let him.

"I think it is great he is going to stay here and earn a second degree. He has worked hard on it. It is sometimes tough when you come into a situation like he did and then you get left out, but he made the most of a tough situation and I am proud of him."

Justin Bruce (in tie) is shown on graduation day with his parents Cathy and David Bruce and his sister, Jennifer (far left).

Bruce admits it hit him hard when he was told that he would have to quit playing football. "I remember the worst is when I first got here," he says. "It really hit me hard when I watched my friends doing the Tiger Walk and walking out of the tunnel for the first game and when they were going to the (road) games and I was sitting at home.

"It was a hard transition for a little while, but once I realized there were benefits to not really having to be at practice all of the time and I could find my own niche it worked out real well."

Although not on the team, Bruce remains close to many of the players. "I still room with Tre Smith," he points out. "I still hang out with a lot of the guys on the football team. We will go out to eat together and play video games. It is pretty cool to see some of the guys I came in with already playing in the NFL."

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