Auburn, Ala.--When Antarrious Williams injured his wrist against Georgia it meant that senior linebacker Derrick Graves would have a chance to step into the starting role at the weakside position for his final games at Auburn.
“It’s a great ending to my career,” Graves says. “It’s like a Cinderella ending. It’s great and it’s fun. I’m enjoying myself. It’s been fun, I guess you could say that.
“To start in any bowl or start in any game is huge,” he adds. “I’m just blessed. I’m glad I’m actually playing and having fun playing with my teammates. I know it’s my last year and I’m going to miss a lot of them. I’ll miss all of them actually. I’ll miss the coaches. This is a great way to go out and I just hope to get a win.”
The senior from Holt, Ala., just outside of Tuscaloosa, started one game as a sophomore and one game as a junior and adds that getting the start against Alabama in his senior season was a memorable experience.
“It was unbelievable,” Graves says. “It wasn’t so much just playing in my hometown, it was playing against my friends. I know a lot of them and it was so much fun. I had fun with them after the game and I stayed the night in Tuscaloosa. Playing in Bryant-Denny Stadium was a lot of fun.”
Derrick Graves (29) looks to make a play in Auburn's victory over the Georgia Bulldogs.
Graves says that while it must be tough for Williams to sit back and watch from the sidelines during Auburn’s games against Alabama, Tennessee and the upcoming Sugar Bowl game vs. Virginia Tech, Williams has been a team player through it all.
“You can’t really tell that it’s hard (on Williams) because it’s like he’s still out there,” Graves says. “He’s out there helping me and talking to me every game after every play, and to me it seems like he’s taking it very well. I thank him for everything he’s doing for me because he’s helping me a lot out there. It’s like having two coaches there on the sideline.”
Auburn’s middle linebacker Travis Williams says he has been impressed with how well Graves has stepped in as a starter. Coach Tommy Tuberville hoped to have Antarrious Williams back for the bowl game, but got a medical report that the wrist needs more time to heal properly.
“It’s unfortunate for A.T., but for Derrick, his number’s been called and he’s ready,” says Travis Williams, who is Auburn’s leading tackler. “He was ready for the Alabama game and the Tennessee game. This bowl game is big and we’re really counting on him and he’ll do a great job.”
Freshman Montavian Collier will be running second string against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. “He’s probably one of the fastest linebackers we have,” Graves says of Collier. “He’s just got to get his mental stuff down and he’ll be one of the best linebackers here.”
Graves as well as 17 other Tiger seniors had their final home practice at Auburn on Wednesday. The team will meet in New Orleans on Dec. 28 and resume practices on the 29th as they get ready for the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3.
“I’m going to go home and visit my mom for a little while,” Graves says of his Christmas break. “Then me and Courtney Taylor are going to ride together to the bowl site. First I’m going to visit my family. I haven’t seen them in a while.”
After the bowl game, Graves is planning on graduating in May with a degree in sociology. He says that he’ll give pro football a shot, but if things don’t work out he plans on attending graduate school. But first, Graves has one last goal to achieve on the football field as a Tiger.
“This is a championship-type game and Virginia Tech is a championship-type team,” he says. “It’s going to be a great game and it’s going to be a fun game. We’re just going to take it as another game we have to play a good team. We’d definitely like to go 13-0 and if we do it’ll definitely feel good in our hearts.”