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    Walk-ons: A proud Auburn football tradition

    June 23, 2013

    By Phillip Marshall
    AuburnTigers.com

    AUBURN - Joe Whitt didn't know whether to be excited or laugh out loud. A young man he didn't know had walked into his office in early 1983.

    "Hey, Coach, I'm Kevin Greene and I'm your starting outside linebacker," the young man with blonde hair told Whitt.

    Whitt, who had moved to Auburn with Pat Dye in 1981, laughed as he told the stories years later.

    "He looked the part, but I thought `This guy is out of his mind,'" Whitt said. "More times than not, a guy will fall on his face. He didn't. You could tell the first day of spring practice he was different. He didn't know anything about what he was doing, but he was tough and he was a banger. From there, the rest is history."

    Greene had tried once before. He'd walked on in the fall of 1980 and, at 202 pounds, played some scout team halfback. Doug Barfield and his staff, fighting for their jobs, hadn't paid much attention. Greene decided the timing wasn't right and left.

    Late reporting because he'd joined the National Guard, spending three months in basic training and attending the military police academy., Greene had started off behind. He told his coaches he was going to concentrate on his education.

    A conversation with assistant strength coach Paul White almost three years later led Greene to give it another try. White mentioned him to Whitt, and Whitt said Greene should come see him. And he did.

    In the years since Greene had walked away in 1980, he'd grown from 202 pounds to 232. He'd gotten stronger and had lost none of his speed and quickness.

    In the 1983 season, Greene played behind Quency Williams and Gerald Robinson on an SEC championship team. Midway through his senior season in 1984 he became a starter. He led the team in sacks with 10 1/2 and won the Zeke Smith Award as Auburn's Defensive Player of the Year. The Los Angeles Rams drafted him with the first pick of the fifth round.


     

     

    Greene would finish his 15-year NFL career with more sacks than anyone who ever played the position. He played in the Pro Bowl five times and in the Super Bowl with the Steelers. Today, he is a linebackers coach for the Green Bay Packers. He is a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame

    "You know what? I wanted it," Greene said. "I wanted it more than other people. I've always said I would go to war with a walk-on more than a scholarship player. A walk-on has to scrap for everything. I've seen more drive, desire passion and determination in walk-ons' eyes and heart than anyone else.

    "The philosophy I live by is that, if you have the fire in your heart, it will compensate for any lack of ability. Coach Whitt worked really hard with me. I think he saw the fire in my eyes and the passion in my heart."

    Greene and those who came after him carried on a proud Auburn tradition.

    Rodney Garner, who left Georgia to join Gus Malzahn's Auburn staff, was an All-SEC Auburn offensive lineman in 1988. Walk-ons, he says, have a special place in the hearts of the teammates and their coaches.

    "Those guys are special," Garner said. "They really are. They are doing it for the love of the program. So many times those kids don't get the recognition they deserve. I don't think you can exist without that group. A lot of times those are the kids that understand what this program is all about. They have generations in their families that have gone to Auburn, and they share with these kids what Auburn means. We are recruiting so many kids from so many different places that really don't understand it."

    Walk-ons get none of the perks that go to scholarship players. They get no scholarship checks, nothing more than any other student. Yet they're expected to do all the work.

    When the Tigers go to practice in early August, some walk-ons will compete for playing time. Most will pay the price in sweat and blood to play on scout teams and hope to one day be able to put on a blue jersey and maybe cover a kickoff or punt.

    Junior safety Trent Fisher walked on, earned a scholarship, started one game last season and will compete for playing time again

    Running backs Chandler Shakespeare and Patrick Lymon got perhaps more carries than any other running backs in the spring. They'll take a step back in August, but they'll be ready if called.

    "They're here because they love Auburn, because they love being part of the team," running backs coach Tim Horton said. "Most of them are going to be scout team players who are going to get hit on on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and, if they're lucky, get to dress out on Saturday if it's a home game.

    "You have a lot of respect for those guys because they don't get put in the limelight like a lot of the others. Those two, in particular, have done a great, great job, and when they got an opportunity in the spring they did a good job."

    If circumstances called for it, Horton said, he would not be afraid to rely them to help win a game.

    "No. 1, they know what to do," Horton said. "No. 2, they'll take care of the ball. Sometimes you talk about players who can help you get out of a game. They can help us get out of a game, and make a play for us. I have a lot of confidence in those guys to do that."

    Junior Dimitri Reese and sophomore B.J. Trimble had some shining moments at wide receiver in the spring and will get opportunities in the preseason.

    Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee says, once players are on the field, it doesn't matter who has a scholarship and who doesn't.

    "I think I can identify with them to a degree," Lashlee said. "The best guy is going to play. Our job is to win games. It doesn't matter who it is. There are plenty of times a guy is a walk-on and ends up earning a job and being an All-American. We give them equal opportunity and don't treat them any differently."

    So it has been at Auburn for decades. Players have come on their own, demanded attention with their work ethic on and off the field and gone on to do big things. Among them:

    Bill Newton will be forever remembered for his two blocked in Auburn's 17-16 victory over Alabama in 1972, but he was also an All-SEC linebacker. On the day he blocked two punts, he also was in on 20 tackles.

    Defensive end Willie Whitehead walked on, lettered for four years (1991-94) and played eight seasons for the New Orleans Saints.

    Cornerback Rod Hood lettered four years and played nine seasons in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans.

    Jeremy Ingle was the starting center on the unbeaten SEC champions.

    Punter Lewis Colbert, an All-American in 1985, leads a long line of walk-on punters, kickers and other specialists.

    Thom Gossom was the first African-American wide receiver in Auburn history and finished his career with an outstanding season in 1974.

    Linebacker Alex Lincoln transferred from Division III Mississippi College and became the mainstay of Auburn's defense in 1999 and 2000 before playing two years with the 49ers. Jason Miska and Danny Skutack walked on and became linebackers who were among the SEC's best.

    Linebacker Bobby Strickland ;ettered three seasons and made All-SEC in 1970.

    Cornerback Tim Drinkard transferred from Livingston State and was a starter on Dye's first two Auburn teams.

    There have been others, many others, who have either become outstanding players on the field or have made major contributions in other ways.

    It truly

     

    Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter:

     

    Follow @PMarshOnAU

    is an Auburn tradition.