By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Auburn football players fill the F. Steve Taylor Family Auditorium for a team meeting, not a single cell phone in sight. When Coach Gus Malzahn enters with a guest, small talk ends.
For the next 30 minutes, there will be no mention of blocking schemes, blitz packages or run-pass options.
Instead, former Auburn All-American linebacker Quentin Riggins (1986-89) shares his journey. How a 25-tackle Friday night as a high school senior earned a recruiting invitation to an Auburn game. And how Riggins left that game -- during Bo Jackson's Heisman season -- at halftime so he could get back to Montgomery in time to work his shift flipping hamburgers.
The work ethic that prompted Riggins to leave at the half prompted Auburn's coaches to offer a scholarship, even though at 5-11, 185 pounds, he was smaller than most at his position.
It's that same work ethic that has served Riggins well ever since, in his career as Alabama Power's senior vice president for governmental and corporate affairs, and as a member of Auburn University's Board of Trustees.
"Auburn's special to me," Riggins tells the team, wiping away tears. "It's more than orange and blue. It's more than the Auburn Creed. It's about the person next to you."
Beyond the Field
Riggins is the third former Auburn player, along with Pedro Cherry (1989-91) and Bret Eddins (2001-04) to speak to the Tigers this summer, part of Malzahn's "Beyond the Field" program.
Tim Cook, Apple CEO, and K-Rob Thomas, a transmission construction general manger at Alabama Power, have also addressed the team. Raymond J. Harbert, CEO of Harbert Management Corporation, will be the final speaker before preseason camp begins.
"Bringing successful Auburn alums back to get in front of our players and tell their stories," Malzahn said. "What's important for them to be successful. A lot of them are former players who they can relate to. Our players are also building those relationships while they're here on campus, instead of afterwards when they get through with football."
Beyond the Field is a component of Auburn football's "Manhood" character development program.
"Trying to help our players with the character side and the life side to educate and empower them for life situations and things that are relevant to them," Malzahn said. "Not only now, with issues they have as Auburn student-athletes, but even when they get older. How to be a great dad. How to be a great husband."
Kenny Ingram, Auburn's director of player relations, leads the Manhood program.
"We use the acronym for the word great," Ingram said. "Growth, revelation, experience, application and time. We want to grow through our revelation and experiences and apply what we have learned in the right timing."
Former Auburn assistant athletic director David Gunn crafted the Manhood definition Auburn uses, Ingram says.
"A male who provides persistent, responsible leadership that is beneficial to generations to come," Ingram said.
"How do we walk in that definition? How does that definition become real and relevant in a personal way?" Ingram said. "We try to intentionally create a culture where we equip them with life skills and strategies."
'The best version of you'
Like Malzahn, Ingram got his start coaching high school football.
"I know Coach Malzahn cherishes this philosophy," Ingram said. "We spend a vast amount of time with these young men. If you don't take the approach as a coach, that you are responsible for developing the whole person and not just the athlete, you are robbing them as individuals.
"This program is not designed to keep them from being a bad person. It's really about challenging you to be the best version of you. When you are the best version of you, you get the best results for you. When you really have a heart for players, you want them to get the best out of life they can get.
"For us, it's not just getting the best football players, it's to get the best person. It's our job to equip them to be better husbands, better fathers and better people."
Riggins ends his talk by encouraging the team members to expand their horizons and develop a plan for success once their athletic careers conclude.
"It's so wonderful that Coach Malzahn has the vision to complete the whole player," Riggins said. "How do we help them transition when they hang up their cleats? Giving them positive people to come through who sat in their seats, wore the shoulder pads and helmet, and help them see that there's another side of things. It's the best thing I've seen in a long time. Coach is taking these guys to the next level."