Auburn hoping to send seniors out with win
by Charles Bennett
cbennett@annistonstar.com
Dec 29, 2011 | 7630 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Auburn defensive back Neiko Thorpe intercepts a pass during a game against Florida Atlantic. Thorpe is one of 15 seniors preparing to face Virginia in Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star/file
Auburn defensive back Neiko Thorpe intercepts a pass during a game against Florida Atlantic. Thorpe is one of 15 seniors preparing to face Virginia in Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star/file
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ATLANTA — Just call them the few, the proud, the Auburn seniors.

Or perhaps more fittingly, call them the Auburn survivors.

There are 15 seniors on the Auburn football team that’s preparing to face Virginia in Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, but even that relatively low number is deceiving.

It includes walk-ons and junior college transfers.

Break it down to scholarship players who signed with the Tigers four or more years ago, and that number drops to five — offensive linemen A.J. Greene and Jared Cooper, wide receiver Quindarius Carr and defensive backs Drew Cole and Neiko Thorpe.

“They’ve had a lot of different scenarios,” said Gene Chizik, in his third season as head coach. “They’ve been through a coaching change. They got recruited by one coach, all of a sudden this other guy comes in. There’s been a lot of change, but a lot of great things for them too. A national championship. An SEC championship. Three bowl games. Those things are hard to come by.”

Most of the attrition in what is now Auburn’s senior class occurred during the transition from former coach Tommy Tuberville to Chizik.

For each who remains, the story is a bit different. The common thread is all have toughed it out. All have paid their dues.

Cole has played primarily on special teams.

Thorpe has been a three-year starter.

Carr has been a steady contributor but never a star.

Cooper and Greene were late bloomers.

Cooper started five of the first six games this year before suffering a season-ending injury.

Greene was in the lineup for the first three games last season before suffering the same fate, but returned this season to start 10 games.

“I tell them all the time that the toughest skin you’ve got is scar issue,” said wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor. “You look at the regular skin and the skin that has been scarred is a whole lot tougher. Those guys aren’t big in numbers. It’s really about quality for them.”

Now their time is almost up. Don’t believe for a minute that they don’t know the clock is ticking, although Carr says he tries not to think about it.

“I kind try to focus on the game, but it does hit you,” Carr said. “A lot of little things have hit me, that this is the last time I’m going to do this or that. I look back on it and I wonder, where did the time go? It’s been an amazing experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Greene said the awareness that time was growing short hit him when the Tigers started bowl practice earlier this month.

“I’ve been counting it down since (bowl practice) started,” Greene said. “Going out every day to enjoy the little time I have left. It’s three days now. It has been a great time, but it’s about time.”

Greene’s a bit conflicted when asked whether it seems like he just got there or whether it seems like it has been forever.

“It’s kind of both,” he said. “I look back and I remember the day I got here, June 10th, 2007. But then I see how far I’ve come. How much I’ve grown as a football player and as a man. When you look at it like that, it seems like I’ve been here 30 years. I’ve seen so many people come and go. It’s exciting but bittersweet.”

Auburn wants to win Saturday’s game for a lot of reasons. The Tigers’ senior class certainly looms as one of the larger ones.

“I think they understand this is their final shot,” Chizik said. “I’m sure a lot of them have aspirations to go on, but the reality of it is we know there won’t be many that will be able to do that. We want them to go out on a great note.”

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