AUBURN, Ala. – In the spirit of Valentine’s Day – because I truly do love my readers and my career – a nice opportunity beckons to clarify how it works in this whole crazy beat writing profession.
It’s all about being fair, with flair. Calling it how you see it. When the team’s good, you write good things. When the team’s bad, well, you write bad things. It’s not overly complex.
Now would be the time when it’s pointed out that Auburn football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball has played 30 SEC games since Sept. 1. The Tigers have prevailed – ahem – just five times.
It’s exactly like it sounds. Mississippi State has the next-worst combined mark, at 9-20. Georgia, for comparison, is 21-9, and Alabama is 17-13.
But I am nothing if not an optimist. I tend to see the brighter side of situations, unless there’s just nothing good to glean.
However, this is the season of love. So let’s give out some kisses and flowers to some of the better stories coming out of the Plains you haven’t heard much about over the past six months.
(Side note: I looked into including candy heart messages to each object of my affection. But “Be Mine Gus Malzahn” and “XOXO Ashton & Blanche” just looked flat-out creepy in print.)
Philip Lutzenkirchen, Kiehl Frazier, Chad Slade and probably others I’m missing for being charitable with their time. Lutzenkirchen’s history with visiting sick children is well-documented, but Frazier, Slade and others quietly befriended young Thomas J. Sullivan, who has been in chemotherapy for the past year recovering from the removal of a brain tumor. Thomas is 6. The Tigers have seeked no exposure for their good deeds. You don’t have to win gobs of games on the field to be a champion.
Ashton Richardson & Blanche Alverson for rocking the student in student-athlete. The finest day at this university last fall was Oct. 29, when both Richardson and Alverson stood and answered questions on behalf of their positive representation of Auburn. It was a Tuesday, just after Texas A&M had pounded the football team 63-21.
Yet Richardson, a senior linebacker and former walk-on who’d earned a scholarship, had his mind on more important goals, just being named a finalist for the esteemed Rhodes Scholarship. And Alverson, a senior women’s basketball forward, was campaigning that week to be Miss Homecoming – which she was named four days later.
Again, there was more to the student-athletes than a scoreboard can show.
Gus Malzahn for restoring the swagger to this campus. I can’t say it enough: nothing Malzahn does will completely overhaul last year’s disaster until the Tigers start winning on Saturdays in the fall, and not just one Wednesday in February. But Malzahn’s tireless work ethic and penchant for attracting top coaches and recruits points the needle in a very positive direction.
The eight Chizik verbals who signed for Malzahn, for honoring their word. On Carl, On Cameron, On Earnest, On Kamryn! On Jeremy, On Jason, On Jimmy, On Daniel! (Whoops. Wrong holiday.) Nothing says family like loyalty through thick and thin. Props, kids. The fans will love you something extra special.
(Note: Jimmy Hutchinson, the punter, will greyshirt and officially enroll in the spring of 2014. More sacrifice for the good of the team.)
Josh Wallace, the point guard who walked on to Auburn, stuck through a coaching change, and earned an athletic scholarship for his senior year and now is pretty much Tony Barbee’s only true option running the floor. As frustrating as the Tigers’ season has been, Wallace has made the most of his capabilities and been perhaps Auburn’s most trusted senior, even more so than Rob Chubb and Frankie Sullivan. Oh, and he’ll graduate in a few months as an engineer.
Julie King, one of Auburn’s most noted women’s soccer players ever who wasn’t quite finished using up her athletic eligibility. After finishing off her second straight all-SEC first-team campaign for an NCAA tournament qualifier, King joined the basketball team – giving first-year coach Terri Williams-Flourney some much-needed bench help, playing all 24 games. Oh, and she’s a three-time academic honor roll nominee. Sensing a smart-guy and smart-gal theme yet?
Auburn sports out of the spotlight for holding the fort. Look, we all know where athletic departments butter their bread, and no one’s suggesting the non-revenue sports’ success makes up for the calamities at Jordan-Hare Stadium or Auburn Arena. But at least take solace in the women’s soccer squad’s seven straight NCAA tournament berths, men’s swimming’s 16 consecutive SEC titles, men’s tennis featuring the nation’s No. 1-ranked doubles pair (Andreas Miles and Daniel Cochrane), and women’s equestrian – an emerging sport not yet sanctioned by the NCAA – ranked second in the country.
Baseball season. Just because it’s here. Starting Friday.
Aaron Brenner, abrenner@ledger-enquirer, @WarEagleExtra