December 27, 2013

The Unheralded, Pt. 1


AUBURN | Tre Mason was a Heisman finalist, Chris Davis and Ricardo Louis are on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Gus Malzahn is a nearly unanimous pick for national coach-of-the-year awards.

Star power makes a different and the Tigers, after several years of strong recruiting, will take the field in Pasadena with their fair share of raw talent. Strategy and group psychology matter -- Malzahn and his coaching staff made that point very clear in 2013 -- but the best teams often have many of the most celebrated players.

Auburn has no shortage of those.

Still, the Tigers managed to defy the odds this season because so many players made a difference at some point this season. It was a collaborative effort. With that in mind, here is a gander at 10 people who made critically important contributions whose names aren't exactly well known outside Auburn circles.

That doesn't make them any less relevant to the team's success.

10. Rudy Ford, freshman defensive back: He arrived during the summer as a four-star tailback with the kind of size and acceleration that plays perfectly at the speed back spot all but patented by Onterio McCalebb. Yet a dismissal and an injury in the defensive backfield left coaches concerned about depth heading into August and Ford, who moonlighted at cornerback in high school, agreed to spend his first varsity season on defense.

     Ford didn't make much of a statistical impact, but that doesn't matter. Teammates say he's worked hard to improve at defensive back -- to the point where he could challenge for a job there beginning in 2014. That kind of selflessness often has a way of affecting other players and there's no doubt Ford's sacrifice made a difference during two-a-days.

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