Auburn, Ala.--There were a lot of happy Auburn University students on Monday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but it is doubtful that many of them were happier or prouder of their degrees than David Rocker.
A two-time All-SEC defensive tackle for the Tigers who earned first team All-America honors in 1990, Rocker walked on to the stage to pick up his education degree from Auburn president Dr. Jay Gogue on Monday at the football field where he made so many big plays for Coach Pat Dye’s Auburn teams.
Rocker still had work to do on his degree when he headed to the National Football League where he played three seasons for the Los Angeles Rams.
“Prior to returning the last time I was here as a student was 1990,” Rocker says. “To come back and finally get it done brings closure to something that has always been in the back of my mind.
“My mother has always been there riding me saying that ‘I want all of my boys to have degrees,’” he points out. “To finally come and get it done is humbling, but yet so rewarding.”
Another family member who strongly encouraged him to return to college is his older brother, Tracy, who was also an All-American defensive tackle for the Tigers. Tracy also happened to be the defensive line coach for the Tigers when David decided to resume work on his degree. Early this year he accepted a job as the defensive line coach of the Tennessee Titans after helping the Tigers win the BCS national championship.
“I started out taking some classes from home (Atlanta), but when it got down to the final part of the degree I decided to take the year off and move to Auburn and finish it,” he points out. “I have been a full-time student the past year.
“My brother Tracy played a very strong role in reinforcing what my mother had been saying,” David adds. “I can’t thank him enough. He really stepped up and was a big brother to me and said whatever needs to get done to finish the degree go ahead and get it done.
“He said, ‘You can come down here and stay with me.’ I am really appreciative of what he and his wife did. I felt like one of the kids. He fathered me, she mothered me and we got it done.”
When he made the decision to return to Auburn, David Rocker found that the university was happy to have him back on campus as part of the athletic department’s Operation Follow-Through program for former AU athletes.
“The athletic department was absolutely supportive the whole time from the top on down beginning with Jay Jacobs, Troy Smith, Tim Jackson and the whole staff--guys who were excited about me coming back,” Rocker points out. “That was one of my concerns going into it because I had been gone for so long. I was wondering how they were going to look at it, but I?felt the support of the whole team.
“After each semester they said congratulations and asked me, ‘How much more do you have to go?’ It is a great feeling to see the smile on Troy’s face knowing it is done.”
Despite being away from the classroom for a couple decades, Rocker was able to make the adjustment. “The difference is that I was more focused,” he says. “It was hard getting back into the routine of it, but once I did and got focused it was so much easier because you didn’t have the distractions you had early on. You aren’t getting distracted by parties and other things. You get your work done and move on to the next task.”
Gavin Rocker (left) is shown with his father David.
Interestingly, he finished his degree just before his son Gavin Rocker, a defensive end at Sandy Creek High School, heads off to play college football at Western Kentucky. Gavin and other members of the family were in Auburn on Monday to celebrate the graduation.
So what is next now that classes are done? “I am going to go back to Atlanta,” Rocker says. “I am going to coach at Southwest DeKalb High School help Coach Buck Godfrey out there and then from that we will see where things go from there.”
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