Auburn, Ala.--Last season as a freshman linebacker Harris Gaston had a great opportunity to contribute to the Auburn defense.
He did well enough in preseason practice to see early playing time, but a shoulder injury ended his first college football season prematurely after he made three solos tackles with six assists.
That was bad news for the Tigers, who were already unusually thin in linebacker depth, an issue that took a toll on the team as the season progressed, something Gaston was helpless to do anything about last fall.
The good news for the Tigers is that the former Bessemer Academy star’s injury happened early enough in the 2009 season to leave him eligible for a medical hardship redshirt which he received meaning he enters the 2010 season with four years to play four seasons.
He will also enter the season with positive momentum after playing well enough in Saturday’s scrimmage to move to the number two spot on the depth chart at middle linebacker and earn praise from head coach Gene Chizik.
“What happened in the scrimmage is encouraging,” Gaston tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. “I was in there with just the young guys. I went back out there and really got into it. I am still learning because I had an injury last year.”
One of the better competitions for a spot on the depth chart has been taking place with Gaston competing with true freshman Jake Holland to be the No. 2 middle linebacker behind returning starter Josh Bynes, a senior and the team’s leading tackler in 2009.
Harris Gaston is shown in a preseason practice.
Gaston notes that Bynes has been helpful to the young linebackers. “Josh has been teaching me and Jake,” he says. “He is one of the leaders of our defense. He has been teaching us how everything goes. It has been a good help for us.”
Gaston was still bothered by his shoulder problem in spring training, but is now ready to go full speed. “The injury kind of held me back,” he says. “Everything is now back to normal.”
The other middle linebacker, junior Wade Christopher, is a walk-on who received good news last week when he was one of three Tigers who have been put on scholarship for the 2010 season joining deep snapper Josh Harris and cornerback Woody Parramore.
“We were very happy to see Wade get a scholarship,” Gaston says. “He was very happy and we gave him hand shakes and hugs. He deserved it because he goes out and works hard every day and the same thing is true with the other guys who got the scholarships. They work hard, too.”
Gaston, who is 6-2, 230 pounds, says that is a good weight for him. He notes that he may drop a couple of pounds during the season, but that won’t be an issue. “The important thing in this defense is to maintain our speed,” he says.
With the Tigers less than two weeks away from opening night, Gaston says he is more prepared to play a game than he was at this time last season. “Overall I think I am way better this year than I was last year,” he says.
Gaston says he realizes that he doesn’t have his spot on the depth chart locked down yet and notes that he has a good battle going on with Holland for playing time. “Me and Jake are good friends,” he says. “It is still a competition at the end of the day. I am second string and Jake is behind me.”
Jake Holland is shown at a preseason practice.
Holland agrees with Gaston that the there is a good battle going on to be the top backup behind Bynes and adds, “Things are going good. I am still trying to play fast and I am still trying to learn everything, but I feel like I played a lot faster in the last scrimmage. Me, Gaston and Christopher are all battling for playing time.
“Josh is playing real well,” adds Holland, who is from Pelham High School. “He has been playing fast and he knows everything. Josh is a guy I look up to when I am watching him play. I play off him.”
Gaston, Holland and the rest of the Tigers will open the season at 6 p.m. on Sept. 4th as Arkansas State is scheduled to visit Jordan-Hare Stadium.
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