As the 2011 season draws closer, Auburn players are still rankled by what they view as a lack of respect.
Jeffrey Whitaker says he likes the Tigers' chances.
The Tigers won the national championship in 2010. They are on a 15-game winning streak. They are ranked No. 19 in the preseason coaches’ poll, but most prognosticators say even that is too high.
Players knew the story when started preseason camp on Aug. 3. They didn’t like it then. They don’t like it now.
Junior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen says it shows on the practice field, where so many freshmen are being prepared to go play in the Southeastern Conference. The upperclassmen, who remember the sheer joy they felt last January, have delivered the message to those who weren’t there.
“Really, that you can’t take any plays off,” Lutzenkirchen said. . “That’s been kind of our theme this year. If you’re not going full-speed, you are really going to get yelled at by the upperclassmen and the coaches.”
Sophomore tackle Jeffrey Whitaker played a bit part as a backup defensive tackle last season. This season, he’s projected as the starter. He says the young and restless Tigers are eager to make the only statement that counts, the one made on the field.
“The deal is we are very hungry,” Whitaker said. “This is a hungry team. … We are more hungry this year than last year because we know what it looks like. We are the defending national champions and everybody is saying that we can’t do it.
“When you get a group of talented young guys and tell them they can’t do anything right when they are working hard and practicing hard, I’m going to take that group against a lot of people.”
Whitaker recalls that Auburn was not mentioned among the national championship contenders in 2010, either. And he recalls it didn’t matter.
“We came out last year and a lot of people doubted us,” Whitaker said. “One thing I learned from last year, and I’m pretty sure the majority of the team learned, is what people say doesn’t matter. It’s all about what you do and the effort and the hard work you put into it.”
Sophomore center Blake Burgess says the Tigers will go into the season with the belief that they can win any game against anyone.
“This program has been through a lot,” Burgess said. “I really believe this program can turn out a championship team whether we have experience or not. Our coaches are that good.”