New Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik showed up for the event to help fund the endowment for a scholarship to honor Wester and Chizik brought a small army of football coaches with him.
Auburn’s director of athletics Jay Jacobs and other AU officials also made the trip to southwest Georgia to honor Wester, a successful businessman and civic leader whose whose love for Auburn has made him one of the university’s biggest supporters for decades.
Former Auburn head football coach Pat Dye (left) joined the quail hunt on Wednesday to raise money for the scholarship in the name of Cleve Wester (center). Gene Chizik (right) participated, too.
Addressing Wester, who was there along with family members plus more than 300 others for the dinner event, Chizik thanked the former offensive tackle from the 1957 Auburn national championship team for “all you have done for Auburn.”
Chizik noted that as head coach of the Tigers that there are plenty of requests for him to make appearances at a variety of events, but the one to honor Wester was one that the coach put on his must-do list.
“One of the very first things that happened when I took the job two months ago is that Joe Whitt, who is a very good friend of mine, said, “Gene, this is one we have got to do. This is one I feel very strongly about.”
The photo shows Cleve Wester as an Auburn football player in the late 1950s. He played on the undefeated 1957 and 1958 teams.
Whitt, who served on the Auburn football coaching staff for 25 years including three seasons with Chizik, currently works as a fundraiser for the university. Whitt is familiar with Wester’s support of the Auburn football program over the years.
Whitt and director of football operations, Jimmy Perry, who also made the trip to Albany, stepped in during the transition period when Chizik was looking to hire his assistant coaches and helped the new head coach on the recruiting trail.
Chizik now has a full staff on board and he introduced the group that includes coordinators Gus Malzahn and Ted Roof along with wide receivers coach and assistant head coach Trooper Taylor, defensive backs coach Phillip Lolley, defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, tight ends and special teams coach Jay Boulware, running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Curtis Luper, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and new staff member Tommy Thigpen, who will coach defensive backs.
Former Auburn defensive lineman and NFL player Ben Thomas, who has been working as the Sewell Hall dorm counselor, has been added to Chizik’s staff as an assistant to the head coach and he made the trip to Albany, too.
“Ben was a great player at Auburn and I have hired Ben on our staff to help me as an assistant to the head coach,” Chizik said. “He does a lot of great things for me. He is involved in player relations and things of that nature.
“It is very important to me to get some Auburn people around our guys,” Chizik added. “One great thing about Ben is you know he has been there and done that. He has done the football thing and been a student and has been an athlete so when these guys have somebody they need to go talk to they are talking to a guy who knows what they are going through. Ben is a great addition to our staff.”
The two-day event to honor Wester includes a quail hunt on Wednesday that Chizik and several of the other coaches plan to participate in before heading back to Auburn to continue their preparations for spring practice that starts on March 24th.
Auburn graduate and attorney at law Nathan Levy, one of the Southwest Georgia Auburn Club board of directors, said he was thrilled with the turnout to honor Wester. Levy noted the response to funding the scholarship has been excellent and it will be fully endowed when the first scholarship winner is ready to enroll at Auburn for the 2010-2011 academic year.
Former Tiger and NFL star Jackie Burkett, who played football with Wester at Auburn, addressed the crowd and said, “Cleve was a good player who was liked and respected by his teammates.”
Another one of Wester’s Auburn teammates, Teddy Foret, was there for the event and agreed with Burkett. “Cleve is a super guy,” Foret said. “He is always smiling, always your friend. He really is a first class person. He was not a super athlete, but was a guy who worked hard to be successful and a guy who played a lot.”
Chizi (left) and Wester are shown at the fundraiser dinner in Albany.
Other former Auburn players attending the event included safety/linebacker and current NFL player Will Herring, center Joe Cope, quarterback Ben Leard, offensive lineman Jeff Bryan and linebacker Robert Margensen.
“When you talk about great Auburn people, and what the place stands for, it is important to me to do something like this,” Chizik said. “You have to pick and chose the things you know you really need to do and this is one that is great because he is a great Auburn person and put it on the line for Auburn for a long time. I am honored to do it.”
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