Feb. 27, 2014
Auburn safety signee Derrick Moncrief says he grew up in his time in junior college (Phillip Marshall photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - When he was a little boy growing up in Prattville, Derrick Moncrief knew what he wanted to do. He didn’t dream so much about being a quarterback or a running back and scoring touchdowns. He wanted to play defense.
Moncrief became a star at Prattville High School, leading the state in interceptions. At Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College he became an All-American, the top junior college safety prospect in the country. Moncrief, 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds with speed and athleticism, signed with Auburn in December and enrolled in January.
“I thought I was Deion Sanders,” Moncrief said with a laugh. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was little. I said I was going to get on TV. Now it’s turning into reality.”
And a father’s dream is coming true, too.
Moncrief’s father, whose name is also Derrick, is the ninth-grade head football and basketball coach at Prattville High School, where he was a star running back in the late 1980s. An ardent admirer of former coach Pat Dye, he wanted to play for Auburn. But injuries got in the way. He wanted his three sons to play for Auburn, too. And Derrick, the youngest, will do just that.
“I eat, sleep and eat football,” Moncrief’s father said. “I’m a football man. I know Derrick can be as good as he wants to be. One thing Derrick has over his brothers is his size.”
But Moncrief’s journey to Auburn wasn’t smooth. He did not qualify academically out of high school and went off to the little town of Perkinston, Miss., to begin his college football career. Son and father agree it was an unexpected but beneficial turn in his life.
“I just wasn’t focused on my academics in high school,” Moncrief said. “I’m much more focused now. It was real good for me. I just had to grow up basically.”
His father says a different young man returned than the one who left in the summer of 2012.
“It’s the grace of God,” his father said. “He’s come a long way. He grew up tremendously in a year’s time. He listened to what I was telling him, that he had too much talent to throw it away. I explained to him about the great players that don’t ever make it.
“He motivated himself to realize he has an opportunity to do some great things. Most importantly, he has the opportunity to attend Auburn University.”
Before Moncrief reported to Auburn, he and his father had a talk. And it was about more than just football and the opportunity to pursue a dream.
“I told him a great player doesn’t just do it on the field,” his father said. “I told him he does it in the classroom, in the way he talks and the way he carries himself. He carries himself like a great player. I told him ‘Get your Bible and start praying. If you don’t do that, I’ll see you coming back in my door one day.’ He kind of figured it out, and I’m so thankful. I told him ‘You have a chance to make it to the next level if you’ll stay humble. If not, you’ll get a degree from Auburn University.’”
Moncrief didn’t come to Auburn to sit. With two years left to play, he came with the sense of urgency of one who knows an opportunity awaits but time is short. He’s working with his teammates now in the offseason program. Spring practice is less than a month away.
“Coming from a junior college, it is very different,” Moncrief said. “There you don’t have all these special facilities. You are out there in Mother Nature. If it there for me now. If I just work hard, the sky is the limit. And I plan to do that.”
Auburn coaches plan for him to do that, too.
“We need a guy of his caliber to fit in our scheme,” safeties coach Charlie Harbison said. “He's a guy who can come in and do a lot of things. He’s big and he’s fast. I think he’ll make an impact right off.”
Even with grade issues, Moncrief had offers out of high school. Auburn wasn’t one of them. But last summer Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn went to Mississippi Gulf Coast. He went to see wide receiver D’haquille Williams and Moncrief.
“Coach Malzahn came down there after we got done working out one morning,” Moncrief said. “He said they really liked me on film. That was exciting.”
Soon there was an offer and a commitment and it was done. Moncrief was off to Auburn, carrying with him his father’s advice about football and life.
“Oh, man. It’s real special,” Moncrief said. “Everybody doesn’t have a dad to teach them and show them things like that. It’s a blessing.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: