Auburn, Ala.--For Auburn senior cornerback Jonathan Wilhite the first three weeks of the season were the most painful of his football career. While he has been injured before and has had hamstring problems before, he had never sat through two consecutive Auburn losses. Banged up against South Florida early in the contest before sitting out against Mississippi State, Wilhite could only sit and watch as his teammates on defense fought hard but came up just short in losses. He says it was tough to sit and watch knowing he could be helping if he was healthy.
"It hurts more than anything," Wilhite says. "It hurts knowing that each game that goes by is one less game in your home stadium. To see the team out there sweating and bleeding together and at the end of that losing, it just hurts. I can't even feel the pain those guys felt because I wasn't out there. It hurt just because I wasn't out there. It's a blessing to be back. I'm happy I could contribute to the team."
Contribute he did. Picking off two New Mexico State passes, Wilhite became the first Auburn player since Junior Rosegreen in 2004 to have multiple interceptions in a game. Making two terrific catches on the ball, Wilhite credits his teammates on one and his equipment on the second but the one common denominator was extra effort by Wilhite.
"The first interception I credit to the defensive line because he had to get rid of it real fast," Wilhite says. "The ball was coming extremely slow so I had time to break on it and make a play. The second one, we were in cover two so we were basically in a zone. I broke on it and got one hand on it trying to knock it down. It kind of stuck to my glove so I pulled it in."
Wilhite and his defensive teammates had their hands full Saturday night against an offense that spreads the field from sideline to sideline and uses every formation and play in the book. Wilhite says the offense itself is tricky enough but the speed of the Aggie receivers on the outside made it a big challenge for the defensive backs.
"I think they're the fastest guys I've ever played," Wilhite says. "Patrick Lee is one of the fastest guys on our team and he came to the sideline and was like ‘those guys are fast'. They had some real small guys but they were really, really fast and it was hard to get your hands on them at the line. It was a big challenge and I'm glad we came through successfully."
A convincing win couldn't have come at a better time for the Tigers as they prepare to make their first trip of the season, to Florida to face the defending national champion and current number three team in the nation. Wilhite says it feels good to play well for a change and every part of the team picked up its game just when the team needed it the most.
"I think on all three phases, offense, defense and special teams, it motivates us and it gives us a chance to see what we can really do when we all click together," Wilhite says. "I'm just glad we all came together and that's what Coach (Tommy) Tuberville stresses. When we all come together we have a wonderful team. I think we did that."