For the three freshman who played their high school football only minutes away, Saturday's 56-0 Auburn victory over Western Carolina provided an opportunity for noseguard Tommy "T.J." Jackson, free safety Will Herring and linebacker Lemarcus Rowell to share the first of what they hope to be many wins at Auburn.
In Rowell's case, he had to battle an NCAA Clearinghouse mistake that forced him to miss a true freshman campaign in 2001 before he was cleared to practice with Auburn for last year's Peach Bowl. The 2000 Parade All-American was told by the NCAA Clearinghouse that a course he had taken early in his high school career wasn't allowed as a core curriculum course. The course was later approved, but Rowell and Auburn weren't notified until too late for him to play last year. He will have five years to play four seasons.
Rowell's debut as a backup linebacker behind senior Mark Brown was delayed a week when he twisted an ankle in preparation for last Monday's season-opener with Southern Cal and had to sit out that contest. Rowell admits it took a little to adjusting to being back in game action Saturday when he played about as many snaps as Brown.
"It felt a little weird at first," Rowell says. "I was kind of rusty. Just the fact that I was running around and tackling somebody besides my teammates took some adjustment," says the 6-3, 229-pound Rowell, who registered one solo tackle and four assists against the Catamounts.
"The first play I was in was a blitz call," Rowell remembers. "I was anxious to get there, but the guard got a cut block on me. I think overall it was a good coming out game for me. Just getting that many snaps after being out of a real game for two years was exciting. I'm hoping to get better day by day and get even more reps Saturday against Vanderbilt."
Rowell says he felt like he was back home in Bulldog Stadium when the three ex-Bulldogs who played for former Auburn center Spence McCracken at OHS were in the game at the same time for several plays in the second half.
Jackson, the seemingly always upbeat 6-1, 304-pounder, saw some action in Auburn's 24-17 loss at Southern Cal, but it wasn't until against Western Carolina that he recorded his first tackle and was credited for half a sack. "It was fun with everybody running on and off the field and getting to play," Jackson observes. "It showed we could rebound and have a good game after the loss to USC."
Jackson says he especially felt good for Rowell. "I told Lemarcus I was so glad he was out there. I used to mess with him and pull stuff on him at Bulldog Stadium. Having him out there was like playing with my big brother. I was so happy for him."
T.J. Jackson runs a drill in practice last month during two-a-days while position coach Don Dunn watches.
Jackson says it's taking a little getting used to with Herring, who is 6-3 and 208 pounds, playing at safety because Herring was primarily a quarterback at Opelika High. "When Will was in there, I was thinking that's my quarterback," Jackson says. "He sure does run to the ball good. I was so proud of him. That dude can play. It felt good for the three of us to represent Auburn, but also Opelika High and the Opelika area." Herring was credited with two assisted tackles vs. Western Carolina.
Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik says Tiger fans should expect to see some good things from the three Opelikans who are expected to improve throughout their freshman seasons as they get a feel for the pace and the intensity of the college game.