Auburn, Ala.–-Playing on the first team at outside linebacker for the Auburn Tigers this spring is not what Mark Pickett expected when he enrolled at Auburn last fall out of Thomas County Central High in Thomasville, Ga.
A solid football player and a three-year starter, he didn’t think football was in his future until he had to watch it from the stands of Jordan-Hare Stadium last fall as the Tigers went 13-0 and won the SEC Championship. That was enough for him to realize he had to see if he was good enough to play in the SEC.
“I really had no intentions of playing when I got to Auburn,” Pickett says. “When I got to Auburn and started going to games I said, ‘I’m wasting my time being in the stands.’ I needed to be doing something productive with my time so I decided to walk on and play. Now I’m going to see how this thing works out for me.”
The answer is so far so good for the walk-on. Currently splitting time between the first and second teams on defense, Pickett has been shooting up the depth chart since moving to linebacker from safety earlier in the spring. He says that the move was tough at first, but now he feels comfortable.
“I had never played that before, but that’s kind of where they stuck me,” Pickett says. “The starters started getting hurt and Coach Gibbs (David Gibbs) said they needed some linebackers. Earlier I told him that I hadn't played linebacker, but he said just to do what I wanted to do so I stuck with safety. But, when those guys got hurt Coach Gibbs moved me to linebacker.
“I have played linebacker for six practices,” Pickett adds. “As far as the first week I was really behind, but this week things started fitting together for me. It’s starting to make sense in my head. I’m seeing the whole picture of where people fit. It has come along in a week. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned.”
Pickett talks with Travis Williams (hood) during a recent Auburn practice.
The ability to learn on the football field comes easily for Pickett. After all, it’s in his blood. His father Sam has been a football coach for over 20 years and his older brother Paul, who coaches at LaGrange, Ga., High was a standout for the Grangers and then a four-year letterman and captain for Alabama in the 1990s.
“He’s an Alabama fan, but he’ll support me,” Pickett says. “He’s fine with it as long as I’m happy. That’s how he is.”
Pickett played two years at Rome, Ga., High where his father coached before moving south to Thomasville where played at Thomas County Central to finish his high school career. He earned all-area honors as a senior playing linebacker, but says that it’s definitely different playing at Auburn than in high school.
“I played outside,” Pickett says. “I was like a bandit or rover. We ran an eight-man front, so I was the bandit. I played everywhere.”
Just 6-2 and 200 pounds, Pickett has the size of a safety in the SEC, but because of injuries to starters Travis Williams, Antarrious Williams and Kevin Sears, his opportunity has come at outside linebacker. He says that watching both Williams’ and talking with him this spring has helped him to realize he could play at this level.
“I’m going to put on a little bit of weight," Pickett says. “I don’t want to put on too much though because I don’t want to lose my speed at all. You can’t beat experience and somebody like that helping you out is definitely helping. It’s important to have those kinds of guys to talk too when they’re hurt. It shows you that they care.”
For now Pickett will concentrate on getting through Saturday’s A-Day game without getting too nervous. A veteran of big games in high school, he’s only seen them from the stands in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Position coach Joe Whitt says that Pickett has the ability to be a player for the Tigers down the road. Who knows, next year he may be on the field in crunch time instead of in the bleachers.
“He’s doing good,” linebacker coach Joe Whitt says. “He has good football sense and good football skills. In time he’s going to be a very good football player. He’s only been a linebacker for about four or five days.”
Pickett and his teammates will go on display at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets to the A-Day game are $5 and will be available at ticket offices outside the stadium on Saturday.