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Fairley snags Lombardi Award

Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley has won the Lombardi Award as the nation’s top lineman.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik, Nick Fairley react to announcement/Todd Van Emst photo

Fairley, has a school-record 21 tackles for loss, and was second in the SEC with 10.5 sacks. He accepted the award in Houston on Wednesday night, the first Auburn player to win it since his position coach, Tracy Rocker, was honored in 1988.

“It’s a great honor,” Fairley said. “Knowing that Coach Rocker had won in 1988, and seeing all the other great names on that trophy, adding my name to it is a tremendous honor.

"I just thank God for putting me in the situation I’m in. I saw the smile on Coach Rocker’s face and knew that he’s very proud of me.Then I saw my mom and dad, and I knew they’re proud of me, too. I want to congratulate the other finalists, because they’re amazing players and people. I want to thank the Auburn family for all the support they’ve given me.”

Fairley is also a finalist for the Bednarik Award, which goes to the nation’s top defensive player. That award will be presented Thursday in Orlando.

And Auburn’s seasons of dreams continued.

Two years ago, Gene Chizik was days away from being named Auburn’s head football coach. It was a decision that would be harshly criticized nationwide.

Wrote Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated: “Chizik has absolutely no chance of succeeding at Auburn. Zero.”

Chizik had been immensely popular and successful as defensive coordinator on Auburn’s unbeaten 2004 team and on Texas’ 2005 national championship team. But he’d been 5-19 in two seasons as Iowa State’s head coach.

Tonight, Chizik will accept the Home Depot Coach of the Year Award at the ESPN College Football Awards Show. Fairley and quarterback Cam Newton will join him. Fairley is a finalist for the Bednarik Award, which goes to the nation’s defensive player. Newton is a finalist for the Maxwell Award, awarded to the nation’s top player, and the Davey O’Brien Award, awarded to the nation’s top quarterback.

Already, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has won the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant. Newton has been named SEC Offensive Player of the Year and Fairley has been SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Offensive tackle Lee Ziemba has won the Jacobs Award as the SEC’s best blocker.

Saturday, Chizik and Newton will be in New York City. Newton is the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. And on Jan. 10, they’ll all be in Glendale, Ariz., to play Oregon for the national championship.

Two years after he was greeted, at best, with skepticism, Chizik has led Auburn to a 13-0 record, the Southeastern Conference championship and a chance to make history.

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