HOOVER, Ala. (WALA) – Just as Memorial Day is the unofficial start to summer, many would say SEC Media Days is the unofficial start to college football. It started Monday, July 14, in Hoover, Ala.
Commissioner Mike Slive welcomed the media Monday morning…the largest media gathering for the annual event in its history.
Slive’s opening statements addressed one of the biggest additions to the SEC’s longstanding and rich history: The SEC Network – a new television station dedicated to all things SEC.
The Auburn Tigers was the first team of the week to address the media. Head coach Gus Malzahn, Reese Dismukes, Gabe Wright, and CJ Uzomah were all in attendance. Uzomah made the trip, last minute, in lieu of quarterback Nick Marshall, who had a run-in with the law last week.
“I was a little surprised,” said Uzomah. “Pleasantly surprised honestly. I think this is a great honor to be able to represent my university and be able to come with Gabe Wright and Reese. It’s not really…I wouldn’t call it a concern. Obviously, you know, we are disappointed in the actions that [Marshall] chose to do but at the same time he addressed the team. We addressed the team and Coach Malzahn will handle it accordingly and he’ll come back on the right track.”
“You know, I think it’s a privilege and a reward to represent your team here at SEC Media Days, and last Friday [Marshall] lost that privilege. We have high expectations for our players but specifically our quarterback being the face of our program. And I will say this, up until this point, Nick has been a model teammate, he’s been a model citizen, and done everything we asked. But he made a mistake and he’s going to have to pay a price for that mistake. He is very remorseful,” said Malzahn.
To what extent Marshall’s punishment will be was not addressed Monday.
Last year’s run to a national championship was discussed Monday. The Tigers – going from unranked in the preseason polls to #2 in the nation…
A motivating factor in it all, to do it again this year: 13 seconds.
“We were thirteen-seconds away. And that’s kind of our mentality. We are going to be thirteen-seconds better at everything that we do. Coach Malzahn pulled us together and said we are gong to brush out teeth thirteen-seconds better, we are going to sleep thirteen-seconds longer, do whatever it takes to win each thirteen-second game better and prepare harder than we ever have,” said Uzomah.
“The thirteen second deal is – you want to be thirteen seconds better at everything you do,” said Dismukes. “I mean class, brushing your teeth, taking showers, thirteen seconds longer. I mean, thirteen seconds better at whatever you do and maybe that will give us a chance to win games.”
“Where we came from to where we ended up. From the worst to first and win the SEC Championship. That was really something, the way everything transpired. The memories and winning close games and everything that goes with that,” said Malzahn.
Eager Auburn fans were in line waiting to see Malzahn and the Tigers early Monday morning in Hoover.
“I want to see Coach Malzahn and pretty much all the players for Auburn that come,” said Barrett Harper of Hoover.
“Meet the players, meet the coaches, meet the media. I actually like this a lot,” said Adam Kelley of Tuscaloosa.
Auburn’s turnaround from worst to first last year is something that is carrying the team into this season. The momentum coming off a national championship run is still high and energetic.
“We aren’t going to sneak up on anyone. We are going to be circled. But really that’s where you want your program to be,” said Malzahn.
Being circled by opponents means the Tigers will be on the prowl for a win…and ultimately a championship.
“I’d say as a player, being the hunter is a little easier. I think definitely for sure being the hunted is a little bit more challenging,” said Uzomah.
“Yes we went 3-9 the year before but that doesn’t mean our goal changed. The goal was still national championship. We believed in that,” said Wright.
The team believed in what the coaches instilled in the program…
“Hearing Coach Malzahn say ‘it’s a new day’ and seeing what all the coaches were doing for us and with us and really how they were preparing us for the season, I think that kind of just flipped the switch to us,” said Uzomah.
But in the end, the Tigers fell short from a national championship last year. Spanish Fort native, Reese Dismukes says that means more motivation for next year.
“You know, it’s a new day. You can somewhat use falling thirteen seconds short as motivation. You weren’t able to complete your ultimate task and goal. Obviously you can use that as motivation,” said Dismukes.
“Our challenge now is to put last year behind us. It was a lot of fun. Great memories. But I think really what helps is we came thirteen seconds away from winning the national championship and that was a tough pill to swallow. Our players and coaches are extremely motivated. That has definitely helped us and I am looking forward to this year,” said Malzahn.