Fannin eager to face the home folks

AUBURN – Mario Fannin’s career gone like he planned. His season hasn’t gone like he planned. But week after week, game after game, he moves with undying optimism.

And don’t be misled. Fannin has played a significant role in No. 2 Auburn’s run to a 10-0 record. He’s a sure-handed receiver with the speed to go the distance. He’s the Auburn’s best blocking back and one of the best in the Southeastern Conference. He’s a team leader, respected by teammates and opponents.

That he’s not the featured tailback and won’t ever be, Fannin admits, disappoints. But it doesn’t discourage him. Little does.

Fannin had his chance this season. He started the first game while freshman Mike Dyer learned his way around. But an old problem came back. There was fumble, then another and another. And soon, Dyer and Onterio McCalebb were the featured runners.

“I look back, and in high school I really didn’t have that problem,” Fannin says. “That’s when I played quarterback and had the ball in my hands most of the time. I really don’t understand why now. You can’t make it a mental thing. I just have to keep pressing forward and get better.”

The problem began when Fannin was a redshirt freshman in 2007. He lost a crucial fumble in a loss to South Florida and another in a loss to Mississippi State. He’s bounced between wide receiver and running back ever since.

Opponents know it’s an issue. When Fannin runs, opponents go after the ball.

“Of course,” Fannin said. “I talk to some of my friends that play on different team and that’s what they tell me their coaches tell them to do.

Fannin is fourth on the team in rushing with 365 yards on 54 carries. He’s the fourth-leading receiver with 13 catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns.

This week, Fannin says, isn’t about what might have been. It’s about what hasn’t been. Fannin, from Lovejoy High School in Hampton, Ga., is 0-3 against his homestate school. And he’ll face those Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday in what could be the biggest of his career.

Auburn (10-0, 6-0) will play for the West Division championship against Georgia (5-5, 3-4) at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff on CBS is set for 2:30 p.m. Thirteen days later, at Bryant-Denny Stadium, he’ll play in his final Iron Bowl.

“It’s real important,” Fannin said. “These last two games are two of the most important games of any season. If you have to limp off the field after the game that’s what you have to do. Playing a big role in it is everyone’s dream. You just have to keep pressing forward.

Fannin will play Saturday for the final time at Jordan-Hare Stadium. He says he expects the emotions to hit him when he arrives.

“It’s gone by fast,” Fannin says. “It seems like just the other day I was a redshirt freshman. Now you are coming up to your last game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. You just have to put everything you have out on the field and hopefully leave a legacy.”

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