Young Defenders Grow Up In Opener

Auburn freshmen defenders Spencer Pybus and Mike Slade talk about the season opener against ULM.

Auburn, Ala.--When you look back on Auburn's 34-0 victory over ULM Saturday night, the story was obviously the defensive performance under first-year coordinator Paul Rhoads.

Taking a closer look you'll see the bigger story may have been the performance of the young players on that defense who saw extended playing time in the win. Led in tackles by true freshman cornerback Neiko Thorpe with seven, in all 21 different Auburn players made a stop against the Warhawks.

Spencer Pybus came to campus early to get a head start on his freshman season and the extra work has paid dividends for the former Northview High star from Dothan.

One of the most impressive players was fellow true freshman Spencer Pybus. Making an impact on special teams with a tackle and a fumble recovery, Pybus also played almost the entire fourth quarter at linebacker and says he thought he did well in his first career game as a Tiger.

"I was on the second team for a bunch of the special teams but they moved me to the front," Pybus says. "It made me happy. They put me in for one rep on special teams and I did my job so they moved me up. I got all the reps on special teams. That was fun.

"It was good to just go out there and do my job," he adds. "It gives me confidence and helps to build that up. I was happy with that."

While Pybus made an impact in his first career game, the same was true of redshirt freshman safety Mike Slade. A cornerback last season for Auburn, Slade worked with the scout team all year until a move to safety this year has given him new life. He notes that it was exciting to finally be a part of things on the field.

"My first game went pretty good," Slade says. "It was loud and crazy. It was everything I expected. I just tried to stay focused. I went out there and played my hardest. I think it went pretty good."

Mike Slade

Part of a secondary that for much of the second half featured himself along with Thorpe, freshman D'Antoine Hood and former walk-on quarterback turned safety Jonathan Vickers, Slade points out that it felt a little strange to have that many players with little or no experience on the field at the same time, but it didn't take long to settle in.

"It was very different," Slade says. "We were all a little nervous. I was talking to them earlier and we all had the jitters. Once you get out there and make that first tackle or get off that first block they go away. It just comes natural after that."

Late in the game there were some tense moments for the young group on defense as ULM got close enough for a late field goal attempt to potential spoil the shutout their teammates had worked so hard to achieve. When the kick sailed wide there were plenty of celebrations going on among the group.

"The shutout was real important," Slade says. "That kind of gives us a mindset of what we're capable of and what we can do. It really meant a lot to everybody to show that we're a strong defense. That was our whole goal, not to let them score. We were put to the test. Now that we know what we're capable of there should be no more excuses."

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