Making The Tough Decision

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn linebacker James Willis has always shown a passion for the game of football as a high school star in Huntsville, an All-SEC player at Auburn and a pro football player in the National Football League.

Willis notes he has always had respect for the way one of his players, junior Steve Gandy, approached the game of football. A high energy guy like his coach, Gandy bounced back from leg surgery in 2006 and was expected to challenge for a starting outside linebacker spot this fall.

On Tuesday, Coach Tommy Tuberville announced that Gandy was giving up the game on the advice of team doctors and after talking the situation over with his family, coaches, team medical staff and friends. A total of four concussions, with the latest one in preseason, made it too risky to continue with the sport, Gandy concluded.

"Steve is going to really be missed," Willis tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "You just watch him going back to the winter workouts. He was always on time, he was always the first one through the line, he was always doing the right things.

"A guy like that is someone to respect," Willis says. "I won't say he is irreplaceable, but we do need somebody to step up and take his role. He and (junior linebacker) Merrill Johnson are roommates and I think they are pretty close. They are really the same type of guy and we are hoping to get the same type of play out of Merrill, but we are going to miss Steve and what he means to our group."

Gandy (right) is shown with Willis at an Auburn practice.

Willis says that when he met with the linebacker to discuss the situation, it was emotional discussing the topic with a player who loves sports, and football in particular. "When he finally decided what we were going to do, he cried, and that is to be expected," Willis says. "I told him it was going to be tough and you may be better off to not even watch football for a while because when you walk away from it is hard to let it go. I told him to prepare himself for this by talking to his parents and to pray about it."

Gandy was expected to push for a starting job this season.

Gandy, who came to Auburn from Wayne County High in Waynesboro, Miss., finishes his career with 46 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and an interception. He started five games at safety as a redshirt freshman in 2005 before moving to linebacker last season. He bounced back from his preseason compartment syndrome surgery to start one game last year and play in nine others.

His coach says as much as he would like Gandy to be on the field every day, he told the junior linebacker that taking care of his health needed to be the number one priority. "I told him if it was my son, I would tell him to do the same thing you are doing," Willis says.


2007 Auburn Football Guide

Premium Subscription Signup

Subscribe to Magazine Only