Each player noticeably stepped up their level of performance during the 15 days of spring drills. Olatunji was particularly impressive and based on his improvement he is expected to see prime-time action at wide receiver for the first time this fall after years of laboring in anonymity as a walk-on wide receiver for the Tigers.
"Being my last year of eligibility, I came in thinking I wanted to do something," he tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I felt like I have always had the talent, but I was inconsistent.
"Coach (Tony) Franklin told me noticed me in (winter) workouts and that really gave me confidence," Olatunji notes. "I made a deal with one of my good friends, Anthony Jemison, who also walked on, that we were going to come out in the spring and give it all we had."
All that he had was good enough to win praise and a prediction from new offensive coordinator Franklin that Olatunji will break into the playing rotation if he continues to perform in the fall like he did in the spring. Head coach Tommy Tuberville noticed the walk-on's improvement, too, and notes that he is looking forward to seeing what the senior can do this year.
As an athlete at Brookwood High in Snellville, Ga., he graduated in 2004 and decided to attend Auburn, a college he had a good feeling about when taking an unofficial visit as a football prospect.
"In high school I ran track," he says. "I ran hurdles, I did every event--I was very versatile. I also played football. I was the most valuable sophomore on the track team and two times I was defensive player of the week in football."
A defensive back and receiver, he didn't become a starter in football until his senior year, which isn't the kind of background that attracts major college coaches, but he notes that he was recruited by smaller programs. However, he had his heart set on Auburn.
Olatunji notes that he wasn't a specially invited walk-on, but he had playing football for the Tigers on his mind when he enrolled at Auburn in the fall of 2004. "I walked on to the football team in the fall of 2005," he recalls. "I was here for a year before I walked on to the team. I planned to walk on, but sat out and worked out on my own before I went out for the team."
His workouts have produced positive results. "I have put on 20 pounds of muscle in college," he points out. "I am 6-2 now and have grown an inch and I weigh 200 pounds. I feel great at this weight."
Charles Olatunji runs after the catch in practice.
Some of his teammates didn't even know who Olatunji was until he stepped up this spring as player in the right place at the right time. In Franklin's new offensive system the Tigers are installing, there is a need for more receivers than in the past. Guys with Olatunji's size, who show good hands and the toughness to catch the football in traffic, are in demand. He displayed those skills in spring practice, much to the delight of wide receivers coach Greg Knox, who says he has always liked the walk-on's work ethic.
The Auburn coach points out that he enjoys seeing a hard-working walk-on like Olatunji have success. "He is a kid who has been in the program for a while," Knox says. "He has some experience and he works hard and that is the biggest key for a walk-on--he has to work, he has to out-work his opponent."
Olatunji says going into his senior year he took Knox's advice about out-working others and as a result the quarterbacks started looking for the walk-on when choosing a receiver to throw the football to in scrimmages and other drills.
The wide receiver says he remembers a specific moment from the spring when he realized that he was making real progress. "There was a play on the sideline when Chris Todd threw me a ball and I jumped up," Olatunji says. "I was between the cornerback and safety. I remember snagging it over Aairon Savage's head and I knew then that if I could continue to make plays like that I could impress the coaches. It was probably then when I realized I could play."
Olatunji is obviously pleased with how 2008 is going. Off the field, the exercise science major is closing in on his degree. On the field, the coaches are asking him to learn several of the wide receiver spots in Franklin's offense to make him more versatile this fall.
"I am scheduled to graduate in December and have plans to go to grad school for physical therapy," he says. "I am getting a degree from a wonderful school. I am excited about that and so is my family.
"I am excited about my senior season, too," he adds. "Whatever I can do to help this team win as long as I can make a difference, that is what I want to do. Whether it is catching one ball or 15, that would be something special and I want to be a part of that."