For anyone associated with the Auburn football program in 2012, it was a year to forget. The Tigers only walked off the field as winners three times last fall and none of those victories came against SEC opponents.
Just like in life, tough times on the football field reveal the true character of a player when he can pick himself up and dust himself off.
Tough times are also when the most valuables lessons are learned. Because of that, last season's 3-9 record and the lessons learned throughout the historically bad season will be a benefit to the Tigers in 2013.
Auburn's tailspin since winning the national championship in 2010 marked one of the fastest falls from the top for a national champion in the Associated Press Poll era.
Some members of the 2013 team can say that they have seen the highest point in Auburn football history in 2010 as well as the lowest point last fall.
Work, hard work.
It's a simple phrase in the Auburn Creed, but the words don't mean much unless put to action. It was a hard lesson learned in 2012.
Complacency appeared to have seeped into the Auburn program after the national championship season two years ago and its effects were evident on the field.
Finishing games was a major problem for the Tigers last fall. In 2009 and 2010, it was a given that Auburn would fight until the end of games.
Former Auburn fullback and pro football player Heath Evans sent a scathing message about the Auburn team last November after seeing Auburn in workouts the previous summer. It points to complacency in Auburn's workouts (via Kevin Scarbinsky, al.com):
What did Evans see during his workouts? What was and is missing from the Auburn program?
“Discipline, structure, accountability, and most importantly, mental and physical toughness,” he said. “It’s non-existent. It’s absolutely pathetic, and I know those are harsh words, but see, the thing about mental and physical toughness is, they’re created. They really are. I can show you the man that looks the biggest and the toughest, and most likely, I can put him in some circumstances where he’d crumble. Great coaches know how to make great men, and they’re built. You don’t come out of the womb with great character, great discipline, great emotional and physical fortitude. Those things are created in you by great men. …
Early reports out of the Auburn weight room under new strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell seem to indicate that Evans would see something different if he were to join the Tigers for a workout now.
Russell uses three different-colored jerseys to measure where a player is in his program. Green is the highest, blue is the middle and orange is the lowest.
"The coaches would grade each player according to their performance in the drill, how much effort they gave, how they finished, their composure as far as acting tired, hands on knees, stuff like that, leadership," fullback Jay Prosch told Joel Erickson of al.com. "If they feel like you're slacking, it's a deduction, so it's an overall grade. If you're above a certain point, it shows your jersey color."
It's a lesson that a lot of us can use a refresher on every now and then. It's also a big lesson that Auburn players who were on the team in 2012 can use in 2013.
Things are not always going to go the right way. Former head coach Gene Chizik called certain events in games, "imposters." It's a line of thinking that says no matter what happens, good or bad, just keep fighting.
"We try to inform these guys that, even in your life, your life does not take form based on your circumstances, good or bad," Chizik told Fox Sports leading up to the BCS championship game. "You carry on. You handle the issues, good and bad, the same way all the time. It's a 'never let them see you sweat' mentality."
That perseverance was needed through all of the bad times last fall when Auburn was playing in front of a nearly empty Jordan-Hare Stadium during the second half of games later in the season.
Safety Jermaine Whitehead hope that perseverance pays off in 2013.
“Oh, man. Every game had its mistakes,” Whitehead told Brandon Marcello of al.com. “With the season last year, the Georgia game I missed that pick in the end zone. In the 'Bama game I came down from safety and hit the wrong guy. There are a lot of plays that stick out to me that I can't wait to [correct] myself this year.”
Another valuable lesson Auburn learned in 2012 was that teamwork trumps talent every single time.
If football games were played according to recruiting rankings, the Tigers would have been contending for a national championship for each of the past four seasons, as they have landed top 10 recruiting classes each year.
Unfortunately for Auburn, that is not the case. Auburn lost to teams that annually come below it in the recruiting rankings. Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss (until this year) always recruit at a lower level than Auburn, but still proved to be better teams in 2012.
More than any other sport, football requires each person on the field to do his job for the group as a whole to be successful. Auburn wasn't successful at any positional group last year and it appeared that team chemistry was seriously lacking.
According to Dee Ford, chemistry should not be lacking in 2013. "We're creating great camaraderie with the team. We're going to take this thing to another level and be Auburn again," Ford told Phillip Marshall of AuburnUndercover.com.
It's struggles like the Tigers had in 2012 that make champions. A giant chunk of Auburn players that played on the 2010 championship team suffered through a 5-7 season under former head coach Tommy Tuberville in 2008.
As much as Auburn administrators, fans and players want to forget about last season, there are a few things they should hold on to.
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