AUBURN --- Brian Haygood has guts. Give him that.
The Auburn civil engineering senior from Montgomery walked into an Auburn Arena suite Sunday, with two police officers in the room, and presented Gus Malzahn an end zone pylon to sign during fan day activities.
The Auburn coach signed the item but doesn’t miss much. He asked where Haygood got the pylon.
“Hey, if you got it at the Iron Bowl, that’s OK,” Malzahn joked as Haygood made his way quickly to the door.
Malzahn signed a skateboard and a plastic children’s push buggy Sunday, but the end zone pylon from last season’s Iron Bowl summed up the mood as Auburn enters his second season as its head coach. The item said in substance what another fan said words at Malzahn’s table.
“Thanks for the ’13 season coach,” the boy said.
And, as another man put it, “We have some unfinished business this year. Looking forward to Dallas,” site of the championship game for this season’s inaugural College Football Playoff.
Malzahn answered with his standard, “no doubt.”
Fan day 2014 had a different feel from fan day 2013.
A year ago, Auburn fans came hoping. A year later, they came gorged from Malzahn’s wildly successful first season and expecting.
An fan day-record 9,500 fans, up from 2013’s turnout of nearly 9,000, came to glimpse the coach and players who turned Auburn from a 3-9 team to a 12-win SEC champion and national runner-up in one season.
They came to glimpse new players, like former Oxford High standout Roc Thomas. The freshman running back and reigning Alabama Mr. Football, sporting his home navy No. 9 jersey, signed items and mugged for pictures alongside teammate and freshman wide receiver Stanton Truitt.
Fans arrived more than six hours in advance, with 38-year-old Blake McClure and his Auburn-themed skateboard heading the Malzahn line. The shipping-and-receiving professional from Commerce, Ga., arrived at 9 a.m. for festivities that started at 3:30 p.m.
“I just saw it on Amazon,” McClure said of his glossy, wood skateboard, which sported a fresh signature: “War Eagle, Gus Malzahn.”
McClure said he was attending his third Fan Day in a row.
“You can tell the difference between the fans,” he said. “They’re more upbeat. It’s Gus Malzahn coming in here and breathing new life in the program.”
Malzahn’s first Auburn team took the breath out of its fans at times.
McClure attended the Georgia game, which Auburn won 43-38 thanks to Ricardo Louis’ reeling in Nick Marshall’s tipped Hail Mary pass.
While the “Miracle in Jordan-Hare” kept Auburn’s turnaround season on track, no game meant more to Auburn fans than the Iron Bowl. Auburn won a showdown for the SEC West Division title and di facto national semifinal 34-28 when Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 109 yards on the game’s final play.
Haygood was in the student section in Jordan-Hare Stadium’s south end zone. Like tens of thousands of other Auburn fans, he rushed the field.
As he made his way past the goal post where Davis caught Adam Griffth’s missed field goal, Haygood felt something on his foot.
“I kicked something, and I looked down and said, ‘It’s a pylon. I’ve got to have it’,” Haygood said. “So, I stuck it in my jacket and walked out.”
Haygood said he wasn’t among the first wave of fans to rush the field. He reasoned that the pylon got kicked toward the goal post. Caught up in the moment, he couldn’t resist.
“I mean, police were real lenient that night, so I didn’t get caught,” he said. “I’ve been saving it, waiting for coach to sign it.”
Haygood said last season “absolutely” exceeded his expectations.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll see anything as crazy as we did last year,” he said. “But last year will definitely be a special season.”
As for this season, he’s not expecting memorable miracles, just big things.
“I think they’ll do well,” Haygood said. “I think having Nick Marshall come back is going to help a lot. There’s not a lot of (SEC) teams having a returning quarterbacks.
“I think it will be a fun year for sure.”