Veteran Leadership A Key As Tigers Open Camp

Auburn seniors Mario Fannin, Kodi Burns and Zac Etheridge talk about getting ready for the 2010 season.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers reported for fall practice on Tuesday and when they did it was with a sense of excitement coming off 2009's 8-5 year that ended with a victory over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. With a large and experienced group of seniors to lead the way and an exciting quarterback in Cameron Newton entering his first season as a starter, the Tigers are looking for bigger and better things when practice opens Wednesday night.

"We're not going to accept falling short," senior running back Mario Fannin said. "Everybody is on the same page about this year. We're not going to accept falling short. We're going to make sure we do everything we can to get to Atlanta. That's what I feel from my teammates and what I feel from myself."

Fannin is one of a big group of seniors that has taken on a leadership role for the team since the season ended last January at Raymond James Stadium. Another one of those players is wide receiver Kodi Burns. It has been a rough ride for the former quarterback at times but he said he's excited about his final year with the Tigers.

"It's crazy," Burns said. "It flew by. I feel like this is the first year I actually have stability. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be fun."

Kodi Burns

Not only is Burns at a position he can now call home, but for the first time since his team arrived at Auburn they'll have the opportunity to run the same offense for two consecutive seasons as players. Burns said that's a big thing for a player to know and feel comfortable with everything he's doing on the field.

"It's great," Burns said. "I know the offense like the back of my hand. It's nothing to me now. It's second nature to everybody. It's key having the same coaches on the sideline. They trust you and you don't have to do through it the first time each game like you don't know them or know what to expect. We know what to expect and they have high expectations for us."

Nobody's expectations are higher than senior safety Zac Etheridge. Injured against Ole Miss last season and only cleared just two weeks ago to play football this season, the Troy native said that with everything he's gone through and it being his senior year there is no more special start to a season than this one in 2010.

"Words just can't explain," Etheridge said. "I'm ready to get out there and compete with the guys. It has been very exciting just thinking about it. I have been counting down to these days. Being able to go back out there and put the helmet and shoulder pads on again is a blessing. I'm looking forward to it."

Joined back on the field by fellow senior Aairon Savage after he missed the entire 2009 season because of an injury, Etheridge said he's excited about the experience and the depth in the secondary for the new year. With so much seniority available on both sides of the ball he said he's looking for big things in his final year on the Plains.

"We all have to get on the same page," Etheridge said of the veterans. "You can have a leader here and a leader there. You can have too many leaders if everybody wants to talk and lead at the same time. It could be helpful but it can also be hurtful. We need to lead by example and not do too much talking. We've played enough football. We just have to push forward to Atlanta."

Auburn opens practice Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. and will practice through Saturday before taking Sunday off. The first day of two-a-day practices is scheduled for next Tuesday.

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