In the summer of 1998, Willie Northern arrived at Auburn with big plans and a willingness to talk about them. Northern said he was going to be a starter as a freshman, that he would be Auburn’s best wide receiver.
Senior Editor Phillip Marshall
On the day before the first day in pads, senior defensive tackle Charles Dorsey shook his head. “Willie’s written a big check,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to see if he can cash it.”
Northern couldn’t cash it. He didn’t play in 1998 and was gone in 1999.
On the other end of the spectrum, running back Carnell Williams arrived at Auburn in 2001 with a pedigree few could match. He’d been ranked one of the nation’s top five running backs. He’d chosen Auburn over dozens of offers.
A day before the start of preseason practice, Williams was asked if he expected to start as a freshman. He quickly said that would be determined by what happened on the field.
“I haven’t proved anything to these guys,” Williams said.
Williams went on to overcome two major injuries and become one of Auburn’s all-time great running back and the No. 5 pick in the NFL draft.
Williams got it when he was a freshman, and he quickly earned the respect of his coaches and teammates. Some figure it out quicker than others. Some never figure it out.
For freshmen from coast to coast, it is that time. At Auburn and elsewhere, they are too excited to sleep. But they are about to face some harsh realities as they go to practice in the heat of summer.
Playing college football is very, very hard. And the halcyon days of being the recruit everyone loved are over.
Those stars that recruiting services put beside their names won’t mean a thing to their bigger, stronger, more mature teammates.
The coaches that charmed their families and bragged on their mother’s cooking will suddenly change. It’ll seem like they can’t be pleased. Muscles and joints will ache. The next three weeks will test them physically and mentally like they’ve never been tested.
Welcome to college football.