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November 14, 2012

Seniors yearn to go out on good note

AUBURN, Ala. – Onterio McCalebb had only carried the ball three times, and he was itching to make a huge play for his team.

70 yards later, he did it. A go-ahead, game-breaking, championship-trailblazing touchdown with a little over five minutes remaining to stun LSU and light up the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd.

Those were the good ol’ days. McCalebb was just a sophomore, and that 2010 touchdown was the final score of his Tigers’ 24-17 victory in a super showdown between No. 6 LSU and No. 5 Auburn, which were both 7-0 entering the game.

That’s still the longest gain from scrimmage for McCalebb, who ranks fifth on Auburn’s all-time all-purpose offense list with 4,343 rush, receiving and return yards.

It’s also his favorite memory at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where he and 12 other Auburn seniors will play their final home game Saturday against Alabama A&M. They’ll be honored with their families in a pregame ceremony on Senior Day.

“It’s finally coming to an end. It came real fast for me,” McCalebb said. “I’m going to miss it. I love it. I love all the Auburn fans and I love the coaches.”
Nothing can take away the championship rings from this senior class, which has a 32-18 record at the school, but McCalebb admitted it’s been a brutal senior season. Auburn is 2-8, with only victories over Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State.

“After this last game, after we play Alabama, I believe I’m going to be able to forget about this year and move on,” McCalebb said. “I have to move on with my life. I’ll be a man and I’ll be out there in the real world doing the things I want to do.

“Ten years from now, I’m going to look back and say something a lot of people can’t say: I won a national championship.”

Senior wide receiver Travante Stallworth didn’t play very much during that championship season, so he takes pride in earning a starting spot by his senior year and fulfilling his four-year commitment to the program.

“This year it’s not going so well, but I’m still happy that I made it through my senior year, because a lot of people that I came in with are not still here,” Stallworth said. “It’s still a tough group of guys still here with me. We stuck it out through anything.”

Like McCalebb, Stallworth looks forward to the future.

“I’ll just put this in life perspective: everything’s not going to be great all the time,” Stallworth said. “You’re not always going to be on the top of the pedestal. Just a life lesson. You’ve just got to learn to fight through things, because everything’s going to have trials and tribulations.”

The Tigers’ current leader in career games played might surprise you: it’s not McCalebb or linebacker Daren Bates or offensive lineman John Sullen or wide receiver Emory Blake.

Ikeem Means made his way onto the squad as a walk-on safety, earning a scholarship before his junior season. The longtime special-teamer is set to appear in his 50th career game in the season finale at Alabama.

Means grew up dreaming of playing at Jordan-Hare, and said it will hurt leaving that stadium for the final time.

“It’s been a fun trip for me,” Means said. “For me to walk on and eventually earn a scholarship, that’s a blessing in itself. That shows the hard work that walk-ons have to go through, and I’m glad that somebody sees my vision and might want to go my same direction.”

It’s no secret the Tigers don’t have much left to play for, unable to reach a bowl game with its current record. For this final non-conference affair, fourth-year head coach Gene Chizik said his primary goal is sending off the seniors with a victory in their final home game, and believes the Auburn crowd should reward them with a grand reception.

“I think they should get an outstanding one, and I think that they deserve it for the work they have put in for this university,” Chizik said. “To be honest, with the success they’ve had in their four years here with three bowl wins and a national championship and an SEC championship, which they all significantly contributed to at some point in time or another, I think it would be extremely fitting that they go out the way they should go out, and that is on a very positive note.”

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