AUBURN - Jermaine Whitehead's freshman year certainly was interesting. He arrived at Auburn as a cornerback and became the No. 1 nickel back. Whining during a speech in Birmingham, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said Whitehead lied to him during the recruiting process.
Jermaine Whitehead will wear No. 9 this season/Todd Van Emst photo.
A coach accused a recruit of lying. Really. With a straight face.
Nutt, of course, no longer has a job, at least not a coaching job. Whitehead, a 4-star recruit from Amanda Elzy High School in Greenwood, Miss., 2011, is still making a name for himself on Auburn's defense.
As Auburn works toward its Sept. 1 season-opener against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta, Whitehead is a fulltime safety. He has been since first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and secondary coach Will Martinez moved him there last spring.
"There is a ton at safety, way different than before," Whitehead said. "I'm trying to get all the communication aspects, how to fit run, how to play fast, how to see run. That's a lot. The film work and playing that by itself is a load."
Whitehead's teammates respect him as a hard worker and hard hitter who plays with unending effort. And they respect his intellect.
"He's off the charts," senior cornerback T'Sharvan Bell said. "He's probably the smartest guy I've been around in football. He knows everything - nickel, safety, corner. He knows it all. I'm impressed with him. He's come a long way and I have great expectations for him."
For Whitehead, it's all about competition.
" It's a shuffle every day," Whitehead said. "We are all competing. The cream rises to the top. We all like to compete. We play defensive back. We are probably the most athletic people on the field. Competing is one of our biggest characteristics."
Auburn's defense, Whitehead said, made significant progress during voluntary summer workouts and has made more in the early days of preseason practice.
"I think we moved ahead through the summer," Whitehead said. "We are seeing things a whole lot better. We have a feel for the defense. We know what the coaches expect and how it's supposed to look. We are calling out our own mistakes. We learn every day."