Auburn's Grubbs dreams of next level
By Bradley Handwerger
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DALLAS — Marcus McNeill played beside Ben Grubbs for two years on the Auburn offensive line, paving the way for the Tigers' running backs and holding off pass rushes.
McNeill now blocks for the NFL's San Diego Chargers, and he won the AFC's rookie offensive player of the month award for September.
With McNeill gone from Auburn, Grubbs' play hasn't dropped off. In fact, his game has risen to the best it has been.
The Associated Press rewarded him by naming him a second-team All-American. McNeill told his former teammate that he's on the cusp of greatness.
"He gave me encouraging words," said Grubbs, who plays left guard. "He said, 'I played beside you for two years, and I know you can do it. I see the talent we have here and I know you can do it.' Just hearing that from Marcus, that motivates me."
Grubbs will play his final college game Monday when No. 10 Auburn (10-2) faces No. 22 Nebraska (9-4) in the Cotton Bowl. Suddenly, the NFL doesn't seem so far in the future.
"It's sad but at the same time, you're ready to move on," Grubbs said.
"I've been here 41/2 years. I'm ready to take another step in my life and hopefully get ready for the NFL."
For now, however, he will have to settle for creating blocking lanes that Kenny Irons can run through.
Not that that's a problem, Irons said.
"One thing that works in his favor is technique," said Irons, who has 2,114 yards in two years of running behind a line anchored by Grubbs.
"When he has to pull and get to the blocks, he does a great job. Running behind him is great."
Irons and McNeill aren't the only ones praising Grubbs. In fact, even defensive players seem to like what the 6-foot-3, 314-pounder brings.
"Ben is a great guy," Auburn nose guard Josh Thompson said. "He brings his stuff every day. He's a great football player. One of the best, probably, in college football right now.
"It's good to go against him every day. It's good experience."
All of this is amazing considering he came to Auburn as a defensive lineman.
Rivals.com ranked Grubbs a three-star defensive end when he signed out of Eclectic with the Tigers' 2002 class, which included McNeill, Jonathan Palmer, Will Herring and Tommy Jackson.
After Grubbs redshirted his freshman season, the coaching staff approached him about changing positions. Some players would be less than thrilled.
Not Grubbs, who played defensive end and tight end before eventually settling in at left guard.
"I was excited. I never had an opportunity to play," Grubbs said.
"I remember when Coach (Joe) Whitt came up to me and told me he thought I'd be better off at tight end. He said the playing time would increase. I was excited. I knew this was perhaps my time to shine."
He played tight end in 2003 before switching to guard for the 2004 season.
Grubbs has played in 49 games, starting 37 straight heading into the bowl game.
And he still has found ways to come up with tackles.
"Every now and then, I get to show my tackling skills whenever we unfortunately throw an interception," Grubbs said.
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