AU Club hears 2013 football preview

Published 8:08am Wednesday, June 19, 2013

By Dale Liesch
The Atmore Advance

At an Auburn Club meeting in Atmore Thursday an assistant athletic director and former football coach praised the upcoming season’s Tigers’ squad and coaching staff.
Mobile native Joe Whitt admitted to the Tigers not having the best season in football, basketball and baseball last season in front of a near-capacity crowd at the Club on Highway 21, but said the future, particularly in football, was bright.
“Last year in football, basketball and baseball, we weren’t very good,” he said. “Here’s the deal; tough times don’t last, tough people do. You can’t lose your focus. Hard work is what it’s going to take.”
Whitt, who coached at the school for 25 years and has been there more than 30, said the coaching staff for the upcoming season will work hard to produce a better result on the field.
Whitt called new Tigers’ head coach Gus Malzahn “one of the top offensive minds in the country.” The former linebackers coach also praised Ellis Johnson, the team’s new defensive coordinator.
“He’s had great defense everywhere he’s gone,” Whitt said. “They’ll play hard and they’ll play smart.”
Whitt said the strongest part of next season’s defense should be the defensive line that includes Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson and others.
“There are some guys there who can play football,” he said. “I think that’s where it starts.”
Whitt added that in editon to Ellis, the defense would benefit from strong coaching in the secondary.
“I expect our defense to be really, really good,” Whitt said. “You’ve got to be patient and let them grow together.”
Whitt added that he expects to have a good kicking game next season with solid protection with East Brewton native Scott Fountain at the helm.
“Scotty will do a great job,” Whitt said.
Rhett Lashley, a Malzahn disciple, will do a solid job leading the offense as offensive coordinator, Whitt said. He was with Malzahn at Arkansas State and “understands the offense as well as anyone.”
J.B. Grimes will coach the offensive line and Tim Horton will do a great job with the team’s running backs, Whitt said.
“He’s been around football his whole life,” Whitt said of Horton. “He understands the game.”
Whitt said he’s particularly proud of Mobile native and Blount High School alumnus Dameyune Craig, who will coach wide receivers next season.
“He’s from my high school,” Whitt said. “I recruited him.”
Whitt praised the coaching staff once again in his remarks.
“We’ve got a good staff,” he said. “It’s a good mix.”
He added that the team would have to grow together, which he believes will happen and create positive results.
“Chemistry is more important than athletics,” Whitt said. “It’s important to come together. Our team will have to play together.”
Whitt then took questions from the crowd and all but expected the first question when asked about who would be the team’s starting quarterback when the season started.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I don’t have an answer for that.”
Whitt added that there are four options for the position including Kiehl Fraizer, Jonathan Wallace and commit Nick Marshall, who Whitt said enrolled in school on Thursday.
“He’s gifted,” Whitt said of Marshall. “They’ll role-play him.”
Whitt said he had in mind who might be named starter, but didn’t share his opinion.
“I think they’ll put one out there who will protect and manage the game,” he said.
When asked about the best athlete he’d ever seen while coaching at Auburn, Whitt said Bo Jackson and Cam Newton would have to top the list.
“Cam Newton, as the quarterback, touched the ball every play,” Whitt said. “Can you imagine if Bo Jackson had touched the ball every play?”
Whitt praised the coaching staff once again when asked about their focus on recruiting. He said this year’s group of coaches all have Southeastern Conference experience, which can help on the recruiting trail.
“When they walk into a high school they have name and face recognition,” Whitt said.

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