Road Test For Rookie Lineman

Auburn defensive tackle Wayne Dickens is looking for better results this week as the Tigers pack their bags for a trip to The Swamp.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn's next football game is a big one for redshirt freshman defensive tackle Wayne Dickens for a variety of reasons.

On the personal level, it is his first visit to Florida Field in Gainesville, a spot where he has wanted to play football going back to his high school days at Lake Gibson High in Lakeland, Fla. The high school state championship games are played on the University of Florida campus and a game in Gainesville meant that you had arrived as a Florida prep power, Dickens points out.

Wayne Dickens

Because Florida Field is just a 90-minute drive for his hometown friends and family, Dickens expects to have around two dozen of them there for the game. "I am going to have a lot of old coaches and family members, and stuff like that, supporting me," says Dickens, who has been working overtime bartering with teammates to find tickets for this game.

Also on the personal level, it is a chance to make improvement after he and his teammates struggled on the defensive front last week against Arkansas. With junior tackle Spencer Johnson hurting, Dickens made his first college start against the Razorbacks and he is scheduled to start again with Johnson unlikely to contribute this week.

"I did all right," Dickens says of his first start. "I was nervous, but I kind of shook that off in the second half. This week, I will be ready to play from the first snap." Another freshman. T.J. Jackson from Opelika, is also expected to see significant action this week with DeMarco McNeil scheduled to play both tackle and noseguard to give the Tigers another option at tackle with Johnson recovering from a high ankle sprain.

Dickens notes that he is excited about making the road trip back to his home state. He is very aware of Florida's recent history as the dominant team in the SEC and predicts the Tigers will have their hands full even though the Gators are off to a 4-3 start under new head coach Ron Zook. "They are still a good team, still a Top 25 team," Dickens says. "It just seems that they just don't have that confidence that Coach (Steve) Spurrier brought along with him. If we don't go out and play hard, they can put 40 up on us just like any other team could."

Wayne Dickens (96) is shown during a 2002 team practice.

The Tigers nearly gave up that many points last week as they lost a home game to Arkansas to drop to 2-1 in the SEC and 4-2 overall. "We are not thinking too much about Arkansas anymore," he says. "You know, that is in the past, and we are just trying to get better from that."

Dickens, a six-foot-one, 290-pounder, redshirted last year after an illustrious high school career at Lake Gibson. He had offers from around the country before choosing Auburn. Since arriving on campus, he has been working on the technique he needs to be consistently successful against offensive linemen who are much quicker than players he faced in high school and often larger than he is with 300-pounders becoming the norm in the Southeastern Conference. Improving his technique, particularly how he uses his hands, is the freshman's theme of the week in practice as he prepares for one of the largest offensive fronts the Tigers will face this year.

Kickoff for Saturday's game is 5:45 p.m. Central time from Florida Field. The game will be televised by ESPN.

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