AUBURN - Under the relentless heat of the Alabama summer, away from the prying eyes of their coaches, Auburn football players worked toward the first day of August. And now it is time.
Running back Onterio McCalebb talks Wednesday about his senior season/Todd Van Emst photo
And as they looked forward, they looked back, back to the 2010 season and the national championship. For those who were there on that January night in Glendale, Ariz., the memory drove them on. They called on their younger teammates who weren't there to follow.
Follow they did.
"Every day we let them know we have to go hard in everything we do," senior running back Onterio McCalebb said. "We have to work hard. We have to lift hard. It carries over into the season. If you catch one person slacking, you're supposed to get on him. When we won the national championship, nobody slacked off. Everybody came to work every day."
Tuesday was official reporting day. Preseason practice begins Wednesday afternoon. Players said it will be a team physically and mentally prepared for the challenge that takes the field to begin working toward the Sept. 1 opener against Clemson at the Georgia Dome.
Summer workouts in the weightroom and on the field are called voluntary. Strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall can watch, but no other coaches are allowed. Players call the on-field workouts "captain's practices" because they are run by team leaders. It is in those workouts, Auburn coach Gene Chizik likes to say, that team are made.
"I think that was the best voluntary workouts we've had in a while," senior outside linebacker Daren Bates said Wednesday . Even Coach Yox mentioned that's the best practices he's seen. I have to agree with him. We had the best workouts and captain's practices we've ever had."
Bates says there was different vibe around this Auburn football team, a vibe that comes from having experienced the best of times and the hunger to do it all again.
"Everybody was in grind mode, trying to grind hard and get to 10 wins, 12 wins, trying to get back to the national championship," Bates said. "Everybody was on the same page, just getting better, getting stronger, faster, gaining weight or losing weight."
Fourth-year junior Nosa Eguae said it was unlike anything he'd experienced, even in the summer of 2010.
"We've worked hard," Eguae said. "Different guys had different weight goals. The offensive looks amazing. Coach (Jeff) Grimes wanted some guys to lose weight, and they did. He wanted some guys to gain weight, and they did. You go out with Yox so long and you want to play some football.
"We haven't had this kind of depth along the offensive line and defensive line since I've been here. We are looking forward to competing."
Eguae, cornerback T'Sharvan Bell, linebacker Jonathan Evans, defensive tackles Kenneth Carter and Gabe Wright and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen missed all or most of spring practice. All are expected to be ready to go full-speed.
"I think the captain's practices gave us an advantage," Bell said. "We're going to be ahead of where the coaches expect us to be. They were the best we've had since I've been here, for sure. They were productive day in and day out."
Junior defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker said it was clear from the start this summer would be different.
"It was good," Whitaker said. "Everybody took their roles seriously. The offseason program was great. We have the best in the country in Coach Yox. We hit the ground running. It went over to the captain's practices. That went great."
The Tigers take the field at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The will work in shorts or two days and shells for the next two days, as required by NCAA rules, before putting on the pads for the first time.
For video interviews with McCalebb and Whitaker, follow the links below.