Ben Tate picked up his college degree on Saturday, but isn't finished with college football…
"It can't get here fast enough," the running back tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "You want to put that bad season behind you. That is the worst season Auburn has had in a while so you want to erase that memory and give the fans a good taste to come out in 2009."
Tate and the Tigers are looking to bounce back from an unexpected 5-7 season with the help of a new coaching staff led by head man Gene Chizik.
Talking about his new coaches, Tate says, "I think they have done whatever they could to help adjust to us to make us as comfortable as possible."
Tate adds that the coaches have also shown they are going to be strong leaders. "They have had to put their foot down and establish themselves as well so they laid down their rules and their boundaries on what we can and cannot do. They told us you have got to trust us and jump on that wagon with us. That is what we are starting to do right now."
The running back finished his degree and graduated in May and is concentrating on his senior football season as a graduate student. In addition to working out with strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall and his staff, Tate is doing extra workouts on his own.
"Hard work pays off," the running back says. "With hard work comes success. Hopefully, if I keep working my butt off I will have a successful season."
Tate says he currently checks in at just a shade under six feet tall and 215 pounds, which he says is his ideal weight. His new position coach, Curtis Luper, says that from what he saw of Tate in spring training the senior has a chance to be a 1,000-yard plus rusher in 2009.
Tate rushed for 392 yards as a true freshman, 903 the following season and 664 when the offense as a whole struggled in 2008. He is currently 14th in career rushing yards in Auburn history and needs just eight more yards to reach the 2,000 mark. For his career at Auburn the tailback is averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
"There are a lot of opportunities for a running back in this offense as well as catching the ball," Tate says of the system installed in spring training by AU's new coordinator, Gus Malzahn. Tate says look for the Tigers to be a power running team as well as a team that can move the ball in the air.
"We will run different sets and run downhill, which is what I am good at," he says with a smile.
Tate adds that he expects improvements across the board on offense and is looking forward to running behind a line that is excited about Malzahn's offense, which focuses on being tough and physical.
"I think the line is going to have the best season it has had in maybe the last three or four years," he says. "They are putting weight back on and they are working hard."
Last year former offensive coordinator Tony Franklin had most of the offensive linemen drop weight in the offseason to emphasize quickness, however that strategy didn't produce good results on football Saturdays.
"This offensive line they have all played in a lot of games," Tate notes. "Now I think it is time to come together."
Tate predicts that Auburn fans will like Malzahn's affection for long passes. "Coach Malzahn is one of those guys who likes to take his shots throwing the ball down the field so we are going to do that as well as run the ball," he points out. "He has a lot of trick plays out there. I think you are going to see us putting up points and having fun."
If the Tigers can connect on some long passes, opposing defenses will be reluctant to crowd the line of scrimmage to concentrate on stopping Auburn's running attack. "If the safeties are backing off, it is taking them longer to get down into that box to get to you," Tate notes.
Tate and the Tigers will open the 2009 season with a Sept. 5th home game vs. Louisiana Tech. Kickoff time for that contest has not been set yet. He says that fans can expect to see an improved team this fall.