By J.M. Comer
Part one of a series of stories this week. I present this story to you as what I experienced on Friday night. Coach Tuberville and his assistants did not know that I am part of a blog and their comments were made from coach to fan. I’d like to share some of what I saw, as an Auburn fan. War Damn Eagle.
He sure looks like Jason Campbell, doesn’t he? said Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville.
He does, Coach. He’s even wearing his number, I reply.
He is, isn’t he? Tuberville says, as Meade High School quarterback Ray Cotton (#17) wings a pinpoint throw toward our side of the field, falling incomplete 15 yards down the field possibly because of the young, chilled hands of a cold receiver.
Ray Cotton towers over his teammates. A full head taller than a vast majority of his team and the other on the field. Are we watching the future of Auburn football?
I’m leaning on the fence surrounding the field with my two close friends and Auburn men, Ike Blake and Thomas “Big Sexy” Jones. Our gamble had paid off. Auburn Head Football Coach Tommy Tuberville is talking football and shooting the bull with us on the other side of the waist-high fence as we watch the Mustangs of Meade High School play the Bulldogs of Southern High School on Friday night.
It’s the first cold, clear night of the fall in southern Maryland. That wonderful crisp feeling is in the air. Everyone is wearing their jackets. And Mustang QB Cotton, an Auburn verbal commitment now wavering because of Auburn’s misfortunes, is trying to lead his team to their first win in four tries.
‘Want to go?’
The subject line of the e-mail from Ike on Monday morning asks if Thomas and I are interested in going to see a high school game Friday night. The Washington Post‘s “Recruiting Insider” blog is saying that Ray Cotton and his father, Raymond Cotton Sr., are questioning the events of the past two weeks. Tony Franklin has been fired as Auburn’s offensive coordinator, and Chaos rules the Plains of Auburn. Our team has lost to Vanderbilt and Arkansas in consecutive SEC games. Fingers are pointed. Questions hang in the air unanswered. “What is going on?” “Who is leading the charge?” “Is Tuberville’s job secure?”
Not exactly what you want to see if you are looking out for your son’s future on the grid iron. You can understand Papa Cotton’s misgivings.
The WaPo blog entry says that Coach Tuberville and other Auburn assistants will travel to see Ray Cotton play against Southern High on Friday night just south of Annapolis, Md. Ike is proposing to Thomas and me in his e-mail that we travel down for the 6:30 p.m. EDT kickoff time after work and watch the game and possibly, just possibly, meet Tuberville.
It’s been a tough year if you are an Auburn fan. You can only look to the future at this point or you will drive yourself crazy with the hand wringing. Championship dreams are dead. So why not think about just West Virginia? Just like countless of athletes have parroted over and over, contest after contest, year after year: “We’re taking it one game at a time.”
Let’s beat the Mountaineers and see where it takes us. But why not also think about (for sanity’s sake) good years ahead? Will Ray Cotton stick with a beaten and bruised Auburn Tiger program? He gave his word. But Auburn is a different product right now. Is Auburn selling him a faulty program?
Cotton’s decision will give a glimpse into his character, I’d say.
But first, we should take a look at what he’s made of on the field. Can he play football?
Although Coach Tuberville won’t be able to talk to Cotton right now (damned NCAA rules!) he can be a boots-on-the-ground supporter. And on Friday night, his presence loomed large.
Friday night lights in Maryland
It’s the first high school game for all of us in years.
Southern High School’s Wingate Field offers a sharp contrast to what you are used to seeing in the South.
It’s the first thing Thomas noticed as soon we walked in. “Look how small the home stand is!” Thomas played football for Central High School in northwestern Alabama in the late ’80s. His observations on all-things football hold a lot of weight with me because he’s played and observed the game for a while. (Later, Coach Tuberville made, pretty much, the same comment when looking across the field to the home stands. “It’s a much different atmosphere than football in the South, isn’t it?” We couldn’t agree more.)
The visiting stands are half full with the fans from Meade High, sitting on a hybrid of wood and aluminum. The bathrooms are three blue porta-potties, thankfully far away from the seats.
The home stands are built into the side of a hill (which is kind of cool/weird) and are filled. Southern High has turned out the fans tonight.
Awesomely, the concession stand offers Chick-fil-A, but things are a little pricey. Someone says so to one of the women behind the counter. She snaps, “Do you like using the bathroom in those plastic johns?!?! We’re trying to raise money for a bathroom here!”
We’ve missed a good chunk of the first quarter because of work and traffic. I wonder if any other Auburn fans in the area will be here, as we walk to the visitors’ side. And as we round the bend in the track, I see our coach in a dark blue heavy jacket and silver hair. And yeah, the ears. He’s looking sharp. He is standing and observing the game some assistants a good 30 yards away from off the high school team.
I can’t contain myself: “War Eagle, Coach!”
There is a lull in the game as Coach Tuberville slowly turns with a smile.
“We got us some Auburn fans here. War Eagle!” he says. Others of the coaching council turn around.
There’s Assistant Coach James Willis too. Ike and Thomas are beside themselves.
Mission — success!
Part Two tomorrow: Talking with Coach Willis. Talking with Tubs. Cotton rules the field. War Damn Eagle!
Update on Ray Cotton
The Gold Mine reports:
Quarterback Raymond Cotton, one of Auburn’s biggest commitments for the 2009 signing class, was favorably impressed that Tuberville and assistant coach James Willis flew to Maryland over the weekend to watch him play.
Cotton told AuburnSports.com that he’s still firmly committed to Auburn and plans to visit campus to watch the Georgia game over Nov. 14-16.
Cotton committed to Auburn when he played at Faith Academy in Mobile, before moving to Fort Meade, Md., after the Coast Guard transferred his father to Maryland.
“I like Auburn, but not just because of Auburn’s campus or how big they are, but I know two guys that are going to be there, Coach Tuberville and Coach Willis, and that’s what I want to go do. I want to go play for them,” Cotton told AuburnSports.com. The Web site said Cotton is not taking calls from other schools.