Nowhere has that been more evident than with the Auburn football team the last two seasons. Faltering down the stretch two seasons ago, the team and coaches took the heat and it carried over into workouts and spring practice.
That's not the case this time around as a strong finish to the 2002 season, including wins over Alabama and Penn State, have the Tigers riding high heading into spring practice. Around long enough to see the highs and lows of the Auburn football program, senior defensive end Reggie Torbor said this offseason has been a fun one for the team.
"If you think back to the year before last we lost four of our last five and it was tough," Torbor said. "We came back asking, ‘why did we do this?' We worked so hard, it was like working and not getting a check. This time we came in and were kind of sorry it was over. After Penn State we were like ‘Who's next? Who wants some of us.'
"We were just clicking on all cylinders. Everyone believed in the system and we believed in ourselves. It just makes the offseason so much easier. It is fun and the guys are enthusiastic about workouts instead of coming into workouts dragging. We're looking forward to practice now and looking forward to scrimmages. I just think that is all carries over and it will carry over into next season."
Experience and depth are two things that haven't been associated with an Auburn defensive line in quite some time, but that is the case going into the 2003 season. With seniors Torbor, Demarco McNeil and Spencer Johnson all returning starters and fellow senior Dexter Murphy back as well as juniors Bret Eddins and Jay Ratliff, the line is in good shape for spring practice. Torbor said it's nice to know that everyone around him is pulling their own weight.
Reggie Torbor is up to 250 pounds and is expected to be one of the top defensive ends in the SEC.
"I guess the biggest thing I noticed is that I wasn't getting hollered at all day," Torbor said after practice. "It feels good to look down the line and see guys that have played with you three years and you know you can count on the person next to you. That's the biggest thing. You know you just have to worry about your job because everyone else will take care of theirs. It's a lot better than feeling that unsure feeling."
Just because the depth and talent is there doesn't automatically make it a better situation for the Tigers. Torbor said that they will still have to push each other and themselves to get better every day or it will wind up being a disappointing season.
"I don't think it's just going to happen," Torbor said when asked if the position would be team strength in 2003. "We have a lot of numbers, but if we don't work at getting good and being better I think we could even go down. Coaches always talk about you never stay the same, you either get better or worse. You just can't get complacent and look around saying, ‘We've got less reps to take because we have more people and I'll take a break today.' You have to work just as hard as if there were just two of you."
Working hard is something Torbor has never had a problem with as a college football player. After arriving on the Plains as a running back out of Louisiana, he made the move to defensive end and has steadily developed into the top player at the position for the Tigers. His move is similar to one his team makes this season as they go from a middle-of-the-pack preseason pick to the role of favorites to represent the SEC's Western Division in the championship game in Atlanta. Torbor said that is an exciting prospect for this team.
"It's a different position than we've been in since I've been here and I'm guessing before I got here because they were 3-8 before that," Torbor said. "You just have to know how to handle it, everybody patting you on the back. I think everybody knows what that is like, everyone telling you how good you are. You're just as good as your last game. Our last game we did pretty good and everybody is telling us you're going to do this or you're going to do that.
"Only our goals matter," he adds. "It doesn't go by what everyone else thinks of us. That's how we've been doing it. We didn't play down to their expectations when people said we would finish 58th in the nation and we're not going to let that influence us. We're just going to stay focused and take care of business."
Torbor should be a key pass rusher this season for the Tigers if he can avoid the injuries that limited him as a junior.
While most would assume the high rankings and expectations would bring more pressure on the players and coaches, Torbor said there are a lot of positives that come along with it as well. Watching every year as teams are picked ahead of the Tigers, the senior said that it's fun to see your name at the top of the list for a change.
"I can't say it's not exciting," Torbor said. "It's something you work for. My class when we came in, the majority of the seniors this year, that's why we said we wanted to come here. We wanted to get Auburn back on the winning track. We've been chipping away and chipping away at it. I'm not going to say it's here, but the opportunity is here. It's just what we make of it. I think all of us realize that and it looks good to not have to turn to the back of the book to see where you're ranked. Now you can look at the first page and see Auburn. That's how it's supposed to be. It's all paper but when Saturday comes it's back to business.
"We kind of have the target on our chest now," Torbor added. "We're not the nine or ten point underdogs anymore. We have to go out and be prepared for people. We're the people who have to stop overlooking people and thinking we're so good and patting ourselves on the back. You just have to have character and I think we have the seniors to keep our team humble and on the right track. I really do believe in our seniors we have this year."