Newport Beach, Calif.---It’s doubtful any members of the Auburn football team are enjoying their ride to an SEC championship season and a spot in the national title game more than Rodney Garner and Dameyune Craig, former Auburn players who Gus Malzahn hired as part of his coaching staff.
Garner is coaching the defensive front while Craig is the co-offensive coordinator and works with the wide receivers. Both groups have improved considerably over how they performed last season.
“To see where these young men are compared to Dec. 23rd, 2012 when I was hired to where they are today, it has been so rewarding for me personally as an Auburn man,” Garner said as the Tigers prepare to play Florida State on Monday night in the BCS National Championship Game.
“Even though I was coaching at Georgia last season, to watch my brothers struggle like that it hurt,” Garner said. “You never want your school to have to go through that.
“This is still the same group, around 75 percent of them, that went 3-9 last season so it is very remarkable how they bought into Coach Malzahn’s vision for the program and what we wanted to do as a coaching staff.”
Asked how much better the defensive line is going into Monday night’s game than it was going into the season opener vs. Washington State, Garner said, “I think they have made tremendous strides. Trust me, I wouldn’t say we have arrived. We still have room for so much more growth and so much more development.”
“What we have done so far encourages me about where we can take this,” the coach added. “I am looking forward to Monday night and seeing these guys play after all of the preparation we have had.
“After that, I am looking forward to the winter workout program, getting the guys stronger, taking them through the mat drill portion and then into spring practice,” Garner said.
“We have to continue to develop and get to the next level,” Garner said. “I think they have an opportunity to be a special group, especially those three young guys (freshmen Montravius Adams, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson). They have a chance to be elite SEC defensive linemen.”
It took Malzahn two tries to hire Craig away from Florida State, but the head coach said that it was worth the effort.
“Dameyune Craig is one of the better coaches in college football, in my opinion,” Malzahn stated. “I have said it about Coach (Rhett) Lashlee having the 'it' factor, having everything it takes to be successful, and Dameyune Craig is the same way.
“Dameyune has done a great job with our receivers,” Malzahn added. “They play very good without the ball. They are very tough. He has just got everything it takes to be a big time coach.”
Dameyune Craig answers questions at the BCS Championship Game Media Day.
Craig said it has been a thrill to be back at his alma mater, where he was a star quarterback. Like Garner, he is enjoying the ride as the Tigers have a chance to win the national championship.
Craig also noted that he likes the work ethic he has seen from the players he coaches. “Everything I have asked of these guys they have responded,” he said. “That is what I am happy about--from the biggest things to the smallest things so I am excited about that. It shows they are willing to work.
“They are showing trust in me, they are showing trust in Coach Malzahn and they are showing trust in the system,” said Craig.
Showing a strong work ethic is a big deal to the receivers coach, something the veteran players on the team made sure he understood when he arrived as freshman from Blount High in Prichard where he was terrific QB. “When I played in college from day one I understood what it took to be an Auburn Tiger,” he said. “What we always hung our hat on is that we outworked everybody, which is something that we are still trying to do.”
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