May 22, 2014
South Donahue Residence Hall is home sweet home for Auburn athletes
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- He needed to bring his team together -- in more ways than one.
Gus Malzahn knew that when he was named Auburn's head football coach after the 2012 season, and so he instilled a new attitude, brought his high-powered offense back to town, took the opportunity to move virtually his entire team into the new South Donahue Residence Hall.
You want to be build camaraderie? Play together. Live together.
"They had been spread out. The dorm was a big deal for us to bring our team closer together," Malzahn said.
The end result of the new attitude, the offense, the dorm was an SEC championship by a team that did not win a conference game the year before, that had been living off campus, sometimes under a watchful eye. The players are still in the new dorm, a year later, centrally located across the street from where they work out, where they practice, where they'll dine when the new Wellness Kitchen opens before the fall semester.
Down the street is where they work, Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Malzahn smiles when he remembers the reaction of his players when he originally told them they'd be moving into a dorm.
"There were some hurt feelings," he said.
But he had the trump card. He's the boss.
"There wasn't a lot of selling. It was pretty matter of fact," Malzahn said.
It's not an athletic dorm. Can't be. At least 51 percent of the residents can't be athletes by rule. The Wellness Kitchen is open to everyone, too.
Defensive back Jermaine Whitehead said moving out of an apartment and into the dorm "was kind of hard at first, but once we got in, we got a chance to hang around each other more. We got to see each other in another light than just football. You get to see the guys, just hanging out, playing games. We did a lot of things that didn't pertain to football, but it actually grew our football relationship."
Auburn won a handful of close games last season. Who knows how much living together helped. But Whitehead said it didn't hurt.
"It had an effect because you knew you could really trust the person beside you. You knew the dynamics of the person," he said.
Still, there were doubts about the dorm in the beginning.
"It was different. Some guys were for it. Some were wondering. But once the seniors got on board, everybody got on board and decided it was a good thing for us to do," Whitehead said.
"Being across the street, being so close to everything and across the street from where we practice, everything was good."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine