Wade Christopher, a redshirt sophomore from Vestavia Hills High School, fits that description for Coach Gene Chizik's Tigers, who will have to deal with a lack of proven depth at the three linebacker spots this fall.
Christopher will go into preseason practice battling for a spot as the number two middle linebacker behind returning starter Josh Bynes. Also in the mix at middle linebacker will be redshirt sophomore Adam Herring, who is expected to be back in action in August after missing the spring with an injury.
"It is a perfect opportunity for me," says Christopher, a 6-1, 215-pounder who arrived at Auburn as a specially invited walk-on in 2007 after a strong senior season in high school that earned him all-metro honors for the Birmingham area playing for Coach Buddy Anderson.
"Coach Anderson was a great football coach, but he is a lot more than that," Christopher says. "He taught us about the importance of doing the right things in life to be successful as well as the right things in football."
The linebacker is obviously aware of that as evidenced by his goal of becoming a medical doctor. He was academic All-State in high school and is an honor student in bio-medical sciences at Auburn. He has a goal of following the family tradition of becoming a physician, something his dad and grandfather did.
Christopher was redshirted last year as he recovered from an injury, but he is full speed now. He is still trying to gain back weight, but is confident that will happen. He weighed 224 pounds when he started preseason drills last year and has a goal to get to that size again this fall.
"After I got injured last year I couldn't work out for three or four months," he notes, explaining the drop in weight.
Christopher grew up an Auburn fan and that was one of the reasons he turned down scholarship offers to Army and Air Force to attend AU. When AU coaches told him he would get a serious opportunity to compete for playing time if he came to Auburn that was enough incentive to head to the Plains.
Christopher started at weakside linebacker his junior and senior years in high school and he played a significant amount of snaps as a defensive end his sophomore year. He also played catcher in baseball and was the only sophomore to make the varsity and says he liked baseball, but he decided to concentrate on football year-around as a junior.
For a player with good size and excellent grades who made a lot of tackles, he didn't get a lot of football scholarship offers. "I didn't go to any camps at all which kind of hurt," he says. "I kind of messed up my ankle my junior year."
Full speed and ready to go for Gene Chizik's first season as head coach of the Tigers, Christopher is upbeat after winning praise for a solid spring from defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who also coaches the linebackers.
"Spring training went well," Christopher says. "I thought I grasped it well--what we were doing on defense. I learned a lot about the scheme and I got plenty of opportunities to get out there and play. I really enjoyed that.
"After being redshirted last year and doing a lot of working out, I was ready to get back out there on the field and play football," he adds. "It was fun."
Commenting on his new position coach, the linebacker says, "Coach Roof has been absolutely great. He has done everything he can to help us."
The Tigers will continue to base their defense out of a 4-3 front like they did the previous two years under former AU coordinators Will Muschamp and Paul Rhodes. The 2009 defense should look familiar to Tiger fans, but there will be differences.
"All defenses are inherently different, but it is still football," Christopher says. "You are just going at it from a different angle."
Christopher says he is encouraged that walk-onus will get a chance to earn playing time with Chizik calling the shots. "I think he wants to give all of us the opportunity to get out there and compete," the linebacker says.