By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - If Larry Porter's first season coaching a new position resembles his previous debuts, Auburn's tight ends and H-backs are in for a big year.
"My first high school game I rushed for 176 yards and two touchdowns. An exciting moment for me," said Porter, who played in Jackson, Miss., in 10th and 11th grade before moving to Columbus, Ga.
Porter received interest from several big schools, including Auburn. Most viewed him as a defensive back. Memphis offered an opportunity to play running back.
"My favorite was Bo Jackson growing up," Porter said. "Bo said he chose baseball over football because that's where his heart was. My heart was at running back, not defensive back. Honestly, that's how I made that decision."
In Porter's first game at Memphis, as a freshman in 1990, he ran 53 yards for a touchdown on his first carry. Porter finished that day against Arkansas State with three touchdowns and 206 yards, 1 yard shy of the NCAA record for a freshman in his debut.
This time, 27 years later, Auburn landed Porter, who spent the previous three seasons at North Carolina.
"The opportunity in my heart to want to pursue a championship again," Porter said. "I do feel like we have the pieces to make it happen here. Being able to talk to Coach Malzahn and some of the other guys on the staff. I felt like the chemistry here was really good. I felt like this was a healthy environment. Being back in this area again was, for me, very enticing."
In his first 19 seasons in college coaching, Porter coached the position he played. Now, he's trying something new.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," Porter said. "The one thing about me is I'm a ball coach. I truly and thoroughly enjoy coaching. I'm just as excited about coaching tight ends and H-Backs as I've been about coaching running backs so I'm really looking forward to it.
"As a coach, it's your job to find their strengths as well as their weaknesses and find a way to improve both. That will be my approach. One, build confidence in their abilities. Two, identify and help explain their weaknesses, then find a way to grow their weaknesses. But every single day, seek to find a way to put them in position to become a better player."
"Larry is a football coach; he can coach any position," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "He's going to do a great job with that group. I'm really looking forward to watching that position develop during the spring. We have a good plan to get those guys more involved."
Porter outlined his spring practice expectation for Auburn's tight ends and H-backs.
"I want the foundation of everything we do to be built off of toughness, physicality and tremendous energy," he said. "If that's the personality of our group coming out of spring, then it's job well done by those guys."
In addition to his position coaching responsibilities, Porter serves as Auburn's recruiting coordinator.
"You've got to have great people skills," Porter said. "People have to be able to connect with you. Two, you have to understand how to build relationships because everybody's different. Three, being sincere, trustworthy and honest."
Porter, a two-time national recruiter of the year, says his pitch to prospects will be similar to what attracted him to the Plains.
"One, we have a rich tradition and history of playing a great brand of football," he said. "Two, the people. When you talk about, `Why Auburn?' It's amazing. As I sat back and I researched Auburn. Not one, not two, not three, but every single person I spoke to, they didn't say Auburn was a good place to be. They said it was a great place to be.
"So I'm going to sell the things that truly put me in position to be here myself. Believing in the program, believing in the staff, and believing in the people who surround this university and make it a special place."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer