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July 26, 2013

7 at 7: An abundance of links to start your weekend off right

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. — Whew.

It’s been a busy first few weeks on the job since taking over as the War Eagle Extra’s newest beat writer. While it’s been full-go from the start, I’ll be off the next two days as I finally get moved into my apartment in Auburn. (Living in hotels for a few weeks is fine, but I’m ready for more permanent digs.) But not to worry — being off until Sunday doesn’t mean there won’t be content added to the blog. I’ll have my final two SEC preseason power rankings articles, and keep an eye out for a big feature that will run online Saturday and in the following day’s paper.

But with so many things going on around Auburn and the world of sports, I figured it was time for another edition of “7 at 7.” Yes, even though it’s posting at 8 a.m. ET. (Hey, it’s seven o’clock somewhere.)

Let’s get to it.

Yight end C.J. Uzomah said Tuesday he is ready to become Auburn's "go-to" receiver this fall. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Tight end C.J. Uzomah said Tuesday he is ready to become Auburn’s “go-to” receiver this fall. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

1. In case you missed anything on Thursday, the War Eagle Extra blog was buzzing with a trio of different entries. First, there was a profile of tight end C.J. Uzomah, who said he was up for the challenge of becoming the Tigers’ lead receiver. Readers made for a great live chat on Thursday as well. Along with the requisite questions about the quarterback position and the incoming freshman class, one Auburn backup ended up as the star of the chat — enough so that one person said he should run for president. Check out a replay of the chat if you weren’t able to make it. Finally, the latest edition of my SEC preseason power rankings appeared, covering the two teams who clock in at Nos. 5 and 6.

2. Auburn picked up two transfers on Thursday, according to a pair of other writers on the beat. As first reported by Phillip Marshall of AuburnTigers.com, Tucker Tuberville, the eldest son of former coach Tommy Tuberville, will walk on to the Tigers as a quarterback and be ready for fall camp. Tuberville was a redshirt at Texas Tech last season.

Jay G. Tate had the other scoop of the day. Tate, the publisher of AuburnSports.com, the team’s Rivals.com site, said another former Red Raider will transfer into the Tigers’ program in defensive end Chase Robinson. According to Tate, Robinson is expected to join the team in mid-August after finishing summer classes at Texas Tech, and then suit up for the Tigers in 2014.

3. Well, former Auburn running back Michael Dyer has finally made his decision: He’s going to a Division I school. He just won’t reveal which one — yet. For more details on Dyer’s future, check out this piece from Grantland’s Bryan Curtis. Some good writing and reporting here, folks.

4. By now, I assume most have seen the replay and heard the news about Auburn grad and Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson. The veteran hurler broke his ankle Wednesday night in New York against the Mets. In a freak accident, Mets left fielder Eric Young Jr. accidentally stepped on Hudson’s ankle as he was trying to beat out a throw to first base. Hudson had to be carted off the field after the play, and not surprisingly, it was later announced that the 38-year-old’s season was over.

But in the aftermath of such a gruesome and saddening injury, it was great to see how well Hudson’s wife, Kim, handled the news. Young was visibly upset after the play, and sent out a tweet following the game wishing Hudson “a speedy recovery.” And as USA Today reports, Kim Hudson responded soon thereafter, noting how much she appreciates how he plays the game “the right way.”

If only we could all respond in such a tactful manner when we have to deal with adverse situations in our lives.

5. There was more good news for another classy individual on Thursday, as it was announced that Georgia offensive lineman Kolton Houston has finally been reinstated by the NCAA. For those not familiar with the story, I’ll let my colleague at The Macon Telegraph, Seth Emerson, fill in the blanks.

“Houston first tested positive for norandrolone, an anabolic steroid, when he enrolled at Georgia in 2010. According to Houston and UGA, he was administered the illegal drug by an “unscrupulous” doctor after shoulder surgery. The residue from the drug stayed in Houston’s system, causing him to continually test above the threshold allowed by the NCAA.”

The Bulldogs continually pushed for his reinstatement since it first took effect after he enrolled at Georgia three years ago, but it had been a long and frustrating process for all involved.

Though he’s a member of one of the Tigers’ rivals, people should be happy for Houston in at least one regard: He just wanted a chance to play. Now he’ll have that opportunity. And it’s hard to beat getting this kind of news on your birthday, isn’t it? Houston turned 22 on Thursday.

6. The folks over at the War Eagle Reader tipped us off to a story quite germane to those around Auburn. According to an article by Reason.com’s Tracy Oppenheimer, the Auburn Police Department instituted an aggressive ticket and arrest quota beginning in 2010 with the arrival of a new police chief. This claim was made by former officer and whistleblower Justin Hanners, who is no longer with the department after he said he refused to comply with the directive.

Regardless of your initial thoughts on the report, I urge you to read the article and watch the embedded video before drawing your own conclusion.

7. People who follow War Eagle Extra on Twitter — and if you’re not doing so already, why not go and do it now at THIS link — might have seen this video already. But few things will prepare you for an Arkansas fan honoring coach Bret Bielema with “I’m a Beliemer” (to the tune of The Monkees “I’m a Believer”) in terribly off-key fashion.

Yes, it’s every bit as terrible as it sounds.

And with that, I’m out.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

March 16, 2013

Mike O’Neal keeps giving Auburn quality starts

Michael O'Neal

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. — It’s starting to sound like a broken record — Auburn starting pitcher Mike O’Neal says he just wants to throw strikes. Then he goes out and does it, giving his team a quality start.

That’s just fine with coach John Pawlowski, who knows it’s more than just hitting the catcher’s mitt.

“I wish it was that simple,” Pawlowski said. “He’s got plus movement and command, with his ability to locate his fastball. He’s got a real good feel for a secondary pitch. It’s just a little different look – it’s more deception.”

In his previous start, O’Neal — a Pacelli and Chattahoochee Valley CC product — pitched the first complete-game shutout of his life in a 6-0 win over Brown Saturday. He’s won all four starters, with a 1.40 ERA.

“In JUCO I always seemed to give up one run in the ninth,” O’Neal said. “I didn’t have a very good bullpen before the game. I didn’t have any idea where the ball was going, but (I knew) I was going to do really well because if I am really good in there I am really bad out here.”

Interestingly, the Tigers’ previous complete-game shutout was tossed by Derek Varnadore — another former CVCC transfer.

“We’ve had some very good luck with guys from ‘Chat’ Valley, obviously, in (Tim) Hudson, Derek Varnadore,” Pawlowski said, “and certainly Mike O’Neal’s done a great job for us.”

Well-coached Vanderbilt’s top five hitters are all juniors and seniors with experience, which will prove to be the toughest test yet for O’Neal and other new Tigers pitchers.

O’Neal has been tabbed to start Saturday at 3:15 p.m. at Plainsman Park. The game will be televised on SportSouth.

“Regardless of who you play, you’ve got to try to be one step ahead,” Pawlowski said. “When it comes to executing a pitch in a big situation, you’ve got to understand your strengths and weaknesses as a pitcher, and then you factor in offensively what the other club likes to do.”

February 14, 2013

O’Neal takes after idol Tim Hudson; Andrews works toward bounceback year

AthleticsAUBURN, Ala. — Standing 6-foot-1, he’s a Columbus native who hijacked the Chattahoochee Valley Community College record books and ventured his way to the Auburn baseball mound.

Sounds an awful lot like Atlanta Braves veteran Tim Hudson, a 2-time All-Star hurler.

Mike O’Neal also fits that description. Well, the stuff about representing Columbus, CVCC and Auburn, anyway. He’s still working on the whole Major League Baseball dream thing.

“It’s pretty fun to think about that,” O’Neal said. “Columbus, Chattahoochee Valley, Auburn.”

O’Neal, who on Wednesday was announced as Auburn’s No. 3 starter in this weekend’s season-opening series with Maine at Plainsman Park, thoroughly enjoyed meeting Hudson, who went to Glenwood, CVCC and Auburn, at the team’s Home Run Derby on Oct. 26, as well as a follow-up speech to the team on Jan. 29.

“He’s a great guy, and when he talked to us, it was probably the best 30 minutes of my life,” O’Neal said. “Because he’s telling us, I came from junior college, I was told ‘I wasn’t going to succeed, I was too small to play this game.’ It’s amazing to see how high he has gotten as a major league ace.”

After graduating from Pacelli, O’Neal had a monster year his freshman season at CVCC, going 11-2 with a 2.30 ERA, 110 strikeouts against just 11 walks and tossing a school-record-tying 10 complete games. Between single-season and career marks, O’Neal’s name appears 16 times in the Pirates’ record book — five more times than his idol.

“He said, ‘oh, you’re the Chattahoochee Valley kid,'” O’Neal recalled of a brief one-on-one with Hudson last month. “I said, yeah, I’m a left-handed pitcher from CVCC. He’s like, where you from? I said, Columbus. He said, wow, same place and everything. I said, yeah, I’ve followed you almost identical.”

Auburn junior outfielder Bobby Andrews is aiming for a bounceback year, recovering from wrist surgery in the offseason and trying to shake a nagging back injury at the outset of the 2013 season.

Andrews, like O’Neal, was solid in the spring of 2011, hitting .396 thanks to a three-week hot streak in April during SEC play.

But given more playing time last year, the Columbus High product saw his average slip to .252.

“I had a tough time last year getting everything clicking,” said Andrews, a speedster with sturdy bat control who hopes to eventually regain his leadoff spot in the lineup.

“This year, I’m just trying to come back with the mentality of I need to work harder, I need to get better every day. I just need to do the things that help the team out in any way possible.”

Back before high school, O’Neal and Andrews were teammates on the Columbus Intimidators, a travel club coached by Tommy Wright from 2003-05. They never faced off as players for Pacelli and Columbus — “They would never play us; they were scared,” O’Neal playfully recalls — but are reunited in orange and blue for the spring.

“It’s kind of neat to have people from your hometown that you’ve been growing up and playing with,” Andrews said. “Mike adds another left-hander to our team, which is always a good thing to have.”

Sophomore southpaw Daniel Koger starts the opener Friday, while righty Rocky McCord gets the ball in game one of Saturday’s doubleheader.

Then O’Neal makes his debut in Saturday’s nightcap, and with a month of non-conference warmups before SEC action begins March 15, he’ll remember a few simple tips Hudson gave him to keep his spot in the rotation.

“Keep the ball in the strike zone,” O’Neal said, “don’t give in to the batters, and keep throwing strikes.”

One more local joins the Tigers’ squad this spring — freshman outfielder Rock Rucker, who played his senior season at Russell County and was named the Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 5A Hitter of the year.

Rock Rucker