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WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2007
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Auburn

AUBURN — Ever since he was “little bitty,” punter Patrick Tatum dreamed about playing football at Auburn. But after receiving tons of recruiting letters from the Tigers during his junior high school season, all of the sudden they stopped the next year.

“I think they found out about (kicker) Wes (Byrum),” said Tatum, who kicked field goals and served as the kickoff specialist while also punting in high school.

“And obviously my tenure was over.”

Not so fast. Byrum is the team’s field-goal kicker and kickoff specialist, but Auburn needed another punter.

So special teams coach Eddie Gran called Tatum just before he was preparing to sign with Jacksonville State. Gran told the Sylvania native that he was needed.

“That’s something I’ll never forget,” he said. “That was like your first bicycle ride. It’s something you’ll never forget.”

He jumped at the opportunity to wear burnt orange and navy blue and walked on to the team, arriving on the first day of two-a-days. He competed with redshirt freshman Ryan Shoemaker throughout preseason practice, but in the end, Shoemaker had too strong of a leg.

“When I saw Ryan punt I was like, ‘Man, he’s really good,’ ” Tatum said.

But following his punt in the South Florida game, Shoemaker suffered a dislocated elbow. Tatum came in, and on the first punt of his collegiate career, pinned the Bulls inside the 1-yard line.

“Coach Gran came to me and said, ‘Loosen up, you’re fixing to go in,’ ” said Tatum, whose father went to Auburn. “I was pretty nervous.”

Again last week, in his first start, Tatum pinned Mississippi State inside the 1-yard line. He has a 40-yard average on seven punts during the past six quarters, just 5 yards behind Shoemaker’s average.

Shoemaker likely will be sidelined another week with the elbow injury, while Tatum is more than happy to take his place, calling the opportunity “a dream come true.”

Tatum, who didn’t punt until his senior year at Sylvania High, said he received 38 voice mails following his first action in the South Florida game.

“That was aggravating,” he said, laughing.

  • Robert Dunn has found a secret to returning punts: watch the pros.

    Dunn bobbled nearly every punt that landed in his arms during the season-opener against Kansas State.

    But since that game, he has done a complete change, fielding each punt safely without any hint of a gaffe. He also has started finding a seam straight ahead instead of dancing from sideline to sideline.

    What’s behind the sudden change?

    Dunn had close friend and Seattle Seahawks defensive back Deon Grant send him tapes of NFL returners fielding punts.

    “We were just worried to death going into the season about protecting the football and somebody that would run North and South,” coach Tommy Tuberville said. “That’s what he’s learned most, being able to take the ball and find the seam instead of running sideline to sideline.

    Dunn said coaches want him to get at least 10 yards a return. He has done that, averaging 12.7 yards in his 12 returns.

    “If it turns out to be a 30- to 40-yard return, so be it,” the junior said. “I’m just trying to get the first 10 yards and jump the offense.”

  • During his news conference Tuesday, Tuberville called the last two weeks “awful,” but he insisted that his 1-2 team can be a good one in the future.

    When in the future, he doesn’t know.

    “This is going to be a good football team,” he said, “whether it’s this week or four weeks from now. We’ve got a lot of talent on the team, a lot of guys who want to make it better.”

    But the Tigers are off to their worst start since 2003, when Auburn began the season 0-2 with back-to-back losses to Southern Cal and Georgia Tech. The Tigers finished 2003 with an 8-5 record.

    It’s also the first time Auburn has dropped a Southeastern Conference opener since 1992, Pat Dye’s final year. That team finished 5-5-1.

    Time to panic?

    “There’s always a since of urgency no matter what you’re doing, whether you’re playing well or trying to improve,” said Tuberville, who noted that Tuesday’s practice was “very enthusiastic.”

    “We’ve got to get better, and we’ve got to get better in a hurry,” he said.

  • Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite said Tuesday that he is 98 percent healthy and expects to play against New Mexico State this weekend.

    Wilhite did not play against Mississippi State because of a hamstring injury he suffered in the season opener against Kansas State.

    “I’m there,” Wilhite said. “I did a full practice (Tuesday) at full speed.”

    Coaches say Wilhite is “day-to-day,” but the senior said “yep” when asked if he will play Saturday.

    Ross Dellenger,
    Daily sports writer

    Alabama

    TUSCALOOSA — For the first time in his seven years as Georgia’s football coach, Mark Richt has closed practice to all non-football related personnel. The timing of the decision is odd, considering that the Bulldogs play Alabama on Saturday.

    With New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick under fire in an NFL spying scandal, Tide coach Nick Saban has defended Belichick when asked about his former boss by reporters on two different occasions. Saban was Belichick’s defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns from 1991-94.

    In December of 2006, The Palm Beach Post reported that two players said Saban, then coach of the Miami Dolphins, had purchased secret videotape of the Patriots to figure out quarterback Tom Brady’s audible calls for an upcoming game.

    At the time, Saban said the allegations were false, and the NFL never found any evidence of cheating.

    “We never had any video cameras. We never got anybody’s signals,” Saban said Monday. “We had somebody watch their signals to see if they could figure them out, but we were never really smart enough to do that, either.”

    Later he added, “We’re always trying to create an edge that is going to give us a competitive advantage. And, I think that in sports, we all like to try to do that. But we all need to be careful that we all do that with total respect of the rules.”

  • Two weeks ago, Crimson Tide wide receiver Keith Brown entered Bryant-Denny Stadium, ticket in hand, to watch a season-opening 52-6 win over Western Carolina.

    A starter a year ago, Brown was suspended for violating team rules and decided at the last minute to attend the game.

    “At first I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to the game,” Brown said. “But with my team being out there and me being a part of the team, I had to support it in some kind of way.”

    Brown said that a few people said hello, but he tried to avoid contact with fans as much as possible. “It was tough,” Brown said. “But ... I don’t let small things like that interfere to my mental state.”

    In Alabama’s 41-38 win against Arkansas, on the Tide’s game-winning drive, Brown drew a pass-interference penalty and had a 9-yard catch.

    “When my number is called, I need to step up to the plate,” Brown said. “They called my number a lot during the last two minutes of the game and I had to do what I had to do to make plays.”

  • Safety Sam Burnthall, a Decatur High graduate, was in a black non-contact jersey Tuesday. Burnthall was riding on an exercise bike. Saban was not available to comment on Burnthall’s injury.

    Josh Cooper,
    Daily Sports Writer

    LSU

    BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU linebacker Derrick Odom was arrested for the second time in less than a month and given a misdemeanor summons by LSU Police for damage to property.

    Police say Odom, a freshman from Jackson, Miss., and Xavier Carter, a former LSU football player and track star, are facing charges stemming from damage caused to the car of LSU student Maria Bruton at the West Campus Apartments on Sept. 1.

    Carter, a professional track athlete, is believed to be out of the country now, but police said they have issued an arrest warrant for him on a felony count of simple criminal damage to property.

    Odom is accused of ramming Bruton’s 2002 Cavalier with his 6-foot-2, 212-pound body, according to Lawrence Rabalais of LSU Police.

    Kentucky

    LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks is using his team’s rare appearance in the national spotlight to highlight the talents of his two top skill players.

    Brooks said after practice Tuesday that he believes quarterback Andre Woodson and halfback Rafael Little should be in the conversation when discussing the best players in the country.

    Woodson, a third-year starter, completed 30-of-44 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns in last Saturday’s 40-34 win over then-No. 9 Louisville. The victory was Kentucky’s first over a top-10 opponent since 1977, and first against its in-state rival since 2002. The win also catapulted the Wildcats into the Associated Press poll at No. 21, their first appearance in the poll since the end of the 1984 season.

    “I’ve said it all along,” Brooks said. “Andre’s as good as anyone in the country. He’s my player, so I’d say he’s probably the best, but that’s for other people to decide.”

    Brooks added Woodson’s accomplishments must be viewed with additional luster because the quarterback has led Kentucky’s resurgence.

    North Alabama

    The University of North Alabama football team will be looking to take the next step Saturday in what the Lions hope will be a journey to another Gulf South Conference football title when they face Southern Arkansas at Braly Stadium at 7 p.m.

    The Lions will enter that game ranked third in the NCAA Division II poll by the American Football Coaches Association on Tuesday.

    UNA (2-0) had a 58-17 rout of Harding on the road in the team’s GSC opener last week.

    Now the Lions face a Southern Arkansas team that has been among the GSC’s top teams for a decade with its triple-option offense. The Muleriders already have wins over Arkansas-Monticello and West Alabama under their belts, but dropped a game to Division I-AA Nicholls State.

    From Staff, Wire Reports

    Copyright 2005 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
    AP contributed to this report.

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