As Auburn's running backs coach and special teams coordinator, Eddie Gran has been part of big wins, of championships, of an unbeaten season. He has sent a stream of running backs to the NFL.
But it wasn't in football that Gran and his family faced the greatest challenge of their lives, one that would teach Gran, his wife Rosemary and their daughters lessons of love, courage and determination. It was a challenge that became a blessing.
Sydney Gran was born on June 1, 1999, with Holoprosencephaly (HPE), a condition that caused her brain to stop developing during her first three months in the womb. Doctors told them she probably wouldn't live six months. She died on May 31, 2005, a day short of her sixth birthday. In her short life, little Sydney and her fighting spirit touched the lives of all those who came in contact with her.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about her," says Gran, who came to Auburn with Tommy Tuberville late in 1998. "It might be a picture at my house or on my desk, but something reminds me of her. It's pretty awesome. When I think I'm having a bad day, there are no bad days compared to what she did and struggled with and lived with in her life.
"I've always said she's my hero."
Gran and his wife, Rosemary, were determined that good would come from the life and death of the little daughter they loved. And almost two years after her death, Sydney is still making a difference in people's lives.
The first Sydney Gran Foundation Gala, spearheaded by Gran and Children's Hospital fundraiser Drake Nunn, raised more than $100,000 last spring. The money went to benefit patients and their families at Children's Hospital, where Sydney spent a considerable portion of her life. The second annual gala is set for March 17, the night after Auburn's A-Day game, at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center at Grand National in Opelika.
The audience will include a who's who of former Auburn players who have gone on to the NFL or are heading in that direction.
Among some 20 who plan to attend are Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Karlos Dansby, Reggie Torbor, Roderick Hood, Heath Evans, Marcus McNeil, Rudi Johnson, Carlos Rogers, Spencer Johnson, Dontarrious Thomas and Kenny and David Irons. Deuce McAllister, who played for Gran at Ole Miss, also hopes to come. Jason Campbell had a prior commitment but told Gran he would send his parents.
"To me, that's a testament to the type guys we recruit," Gran says. "It's pretty neat to see those guys come back and be a part of it."
The gala will include a reception, a dinner, speakers and a silent auction. Last year's event was more successful than even Gran or Nunn imagined.
"It would be great if we could match that," Gran says. "I thought the first year was phenomenal. I think it is going to be neat for people to find out where this money is going, who they have helped and how it has worked. I think it will get better and better every year."
Berney Office Solutions has signed on as title sponsor for the event. More information is available at www.sydneygranfoundation.org or from Nunn at 256-426-2554.
It seems obvious now that Auburn's baseball program has taken a major step forward. Winning their series 2-1 over No. 10 Arizona State over the weekend at Plainsman Park was big in a lot of ways for the Tigers.
With the start of the Southeastern Conference season less than two weeks away, they have shown they can play with the big boys. They can win games pitching, hitting the long ball, playing small ball.
At this point, it would be a major surprise if Tom Slater's third team doesn't play in the postseason. And based on the recruiting class coming in next year, even better days are ahead...
Don't be making those NIT reservations just yet.
In years past, Auburn's 17-14 record at the end of the regular season would be an automatic ticket to an NIT bid. But the NIT has changed.
Coach Jeff Lebo's Tigers will play Georgia in the opening round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Atlanta.
The field has been reduced to 32 teams. Mid-major conference champions that don't win their tournaments and get NCAA bids get automatic bids to the NIT. When South Alabama, the Sun Belt regular-season champion, lost in its tournament Sunday, a spot that might have gone to a team like Auburn was taken.
With some projections having just four SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament, depending what happens in the league tournament, seven SEC teams could qualify for the NIT. No way all of them will get in.
My guess is that a loss to Georgia on Thursday would end Auburn's season.
I am doing a new blog on Auburn athletics on al.com. It's called Tracking the Tigers. Simply go to al.com, go to Auburn sports and click on the Tracking the Tigers link. It'll be updated daily, sometimes more than once a day. Check it out.
Until next time...