Auburn, Ala.--This weekend will be special for Auburn’s senior class as the Tigers are hosts to Louisiana-Monroe Saturday at 1 p.m. for homecoming. It will be especially sweet for wide receiver Marcel Willis and free safety Travaris Robinson.
After coming into the Auburn program together in the fall of 1999, Coach Tommy Tuberville’s first season on the Plains, both Willis and Robinson had successful true freshman seasons at wide receiver, but things would change after that. While Willis became a vital part of Auburn’s offense the next season, Robinson was moved to defensive back only to see his playing time diminish. It would not be until this season that the former wide receiver would excel in the secondary after moving from cornerback to safety.
Never complaining despite sitting on the bench for much of his sophomore and junior seasons, Robinson has become the leader of a defense that leads the nation in interceptions with 18 through nine games. A charismatic and vocal player, says this season has been a fun one in the secondary where players are really leaning on each other to get the job done.
“I’m the oldest back there so it’s up to me to get the guys lined up when they don’t know what to do,” Robinson says. “Sometimes they have to tell me. We’re just going out there helping each other and trying to win ball games. We’re trying to get back to the SEC Championship and we can’t do that being selfish. Everybody has to stick together and help one another out. We’re going to continue to play hard.”
Playing hard has been the basis of Willis’ career. Not the fastest or strongest receiver on the Auburn squad, he has used technique and an iron will to succeed on the college level. Auburn’s leading receiver in 2002 with 27 catches for 352 yards and one touchdown, he has matched his career highs in all three categories with three games left in the season and has 77 catches for nearly 1,000 yards in career. After fighting through injuries as a junior and learning a new offense this season, Willis says this season has been a special one already and he hates to see it coming to a close.
“Anything that is the end is kind of sad,” Willis says. “I’ve had a long run here at Auburn. This is the last homecoming game. I’ve been through three, but this is the last one. This game is more of a heart-touching event. It’s kind of sad. We have one more home game against Georgia but this is my last homecoming game.”
With Georgia looming on the horizon, the Florida native notes this week would be a challenge for the upperclassmen to keep the younger players in this week’s game. A part of teams that nearly lost to Appalachian State and Louisiana Tech, Willis doesn’t plan on letting that happen again this weekend against the Indians.
“We just have to look at all these upsets,” Willis says. “Sometimes just because you are supposed to beat a team real bad doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. You have to tell these young guys that it happens around the country all the time so don’t take these guys lightly. Louisiana Tech last year did it to us. We just have to tell them to keep their heads up and don’t overlook these guys.”
While Willis has been a steady performer for his career, Robinson’s four years at Auburn have been tough for the player rated as one of the Top 10 cornerbacks in the South coming out of Coral Park High in Miami. As a freshman he caught 18 passes for 174 yards and one touchdown and also returned 14 kickoffs for an average of 22.6 yards. Following two seasons at cornerback where he totaled just 57 tackles and one interception, he made the move to free safety as a senior under the tutelage of new coordinator Gene Chizik and the rest has been history.
Fourth on the team in 2002 with 60 tackles and tied for the team lead in interceptions with three, Robinson has flourished in the attacking style of defense Chizik has implemented. His best career game may have been Saturday against Ole Miss when he had six tackles and intercepted a Eli Manning pass in the end zone with 1:32 remaining to seal the Auburn victory.
His most impressive play of the game may have been in the third quarter when he pulled back from intercepting a tipped ball so that teammate Horace Willis could intercept the ball without interference. Coming at a key time in the game, it set up what would eventually be the game-winning score for the Tigers.
“I thought I could have gotten it, but I didn’t want to hit him and both of us miss it,” Robinson says. “I know it was a pivotal point in the game and we had to get off the field right then. It’s not a selfish thing back there. We’re trying to win the game. That’s the most important thing. Stats are good. Of course, you want your stats but if I could choose to have 10 interceptions or the SEC Championship I would choose the SEC Championship 100 times in a row.”
Leadership and hustle have come to define both Willis and Robinson in their careers on the Plains and they both say they want to finish this thing the right way. Making the walk onto the field for Senior Day this Saturday before the annual border war game with Georgia, Robinson says this week is not only special for the players, but for the fans as well.
“We never want to lose a homecoming game because we’re playing that game for our fans,” Robinson says. “They come to this game and they want us to win so we’re going to go out there and play the best game we’ve played so far. Every game Coach (Tommy Tuberville) always talks about playing better than we played the game before. We’re going to play this game better than we played Ole Miss and then Georgia the same way. The Alabama game will take care of itself.”