Sep 5, 2013
Defensive tackle Montravius Adams says he plays football for love of the game and for his family (Phillip Marshall photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – Montravius Adams has seen it too many times, young men with talent to do big things finding little but trouble. From the time he was young, Adams vowed he wouldn’t be one of them.
“You see a lot of bad that goes on,” says Adams, Auburn’s powerful and athletic freshman defensive tackle. “A lot of people don’t make it out. A lot of people are still there. It’s easy to be influenced, but if you have a golden dream, you can do anything.”
Growing up in the small Georgia town of Vienna, Adams watched his mother work long hours on the second shift at the Tyson Foods plant to support him and his three older sisters. He wouldn’t disappoint her. He couldn’t.
“I love my mama,” Adams says. “She’s a great lady. I knew I was going to make my mama proud one day. I heard a lot of stuff, a lot of bad things people said like I wasn’t going to make it, I wasn’t going to graduate, stuff like that. I’m a person that likes to prove people wrong.”
Debbie Young always knew her son would do just that.
“He’s been loving football since he was 6 years old,” Ms. Young says. “I have always worked at night. I thank God for my kids. I always talk to them. They know I’ve got to work. He didn’t get in trouble, didn’t drink, didn’t do any drugs or anything like that. He’s my baby, and he’s always been a good boy.”
Adams and his mother still talk every day, more about family and life than about football.
On a hot and muggy Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn fans were growing restless. Washington State had led much of the first half in the season-opener. Auburn’s defense had not been able to disrupt quarterback Connor Halliday. Adams had watched from the sideline.
With 6:18 left in the second quarter, the call went out from defensive line coach Rodney Garner. He sent Adams into the game. Auburn had just taken a 22-21 lead on Corey Grant’s 75-yard run. On his first college football snap, Adams went through a blocker and sacked Halliday for a 2-yard loss. The game was never really the same again. Washington State managed just a field goal from that point on, and Auburn went on to a 31-24 victory.
“I was standing on the sideline, and Coach G was 10-15 yards away,” Adams says. “I heard somebody call my name and knew it was him. I took off down the sideline to where he was, and he said to go in the next play. The guy tried to chop me. I put my hands down and kind of ran through him and got the sack.
“That helped me out a lot in the game. I think it gave a little spark to the team, and everybody started playing together. That’s our big thing. That’s what we do.”
Garner wasn’t sure what to expect from his 6-foot-4, 305-pound freshman, a 5-star recruit rated the No. 2 defensive tackle prospect in the country after an All-American career at Dooly County High School.
“Montravius is a very gifted young man and will be a very good player,” Garner says. “Did I know he would come in and do that? No. But he has been truly blessed by God, and he has some natural God-given ability, some quick twitch. He’s a powerful guy. I was pleasantly surprised by what he was able to go out there and do.”
Adams played 34 snaps. He had two tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry, but even when he wasn’t getting to Halliday, he was chasing him, hounding him.
“He came in and definitely brought a much-needed spark to our team,” Garner says. “I definitely think he impacted the outcome of the game. At that time, we were really struggling to try to get some rush and disrupt the quarterback. Prior to him coming in, we really weren’t getting anything done.
“Once he came in, it seemed like everybody elevated their play around him. There are still a lot of things he has to clean up and work on and improve and get better, but he made a difference.”
Adams started playing football as a first-grader in the recreation league in his hometown. He was a running back in those days, and he was fascinated by the game.
“I was a big Reggie Bush fan,” Adams says. “I’ve still got some running back in me. I’m trying to make big plays to help her team. I’d love to pick up a fumble and show you.”
By the time Adams was in high school, he had outgrown the running back position. He moved to the defensive line, and his future course was set. It was in the summer before his junior year in high school that he realized he could do big things in the game he loved.
“I went to a camp and thought I had a very bad day,” Adams says, “but when I got my results back I ended up making higher than anybody there. I got invited to a Florida State camp. We did one-on-ones and I did real well, then I got invited to Alabama and to the Georgia one with Coach G.”
And college coaches began making their way to Dooly County to watch the ferociously physical defensive tackle with the athleticism of a running back. Offers came from far and near. Jimmy Hughes, his high school coach, says Adams did not change with the sudden rush of attention.
‘He’s a quiet kid,” Hughes says. “He’s very reserved. He chooses his words and thinks before he speaks, which a lot of kids don’t do now. They probably wish they did. He’s guarded in what he tells other people. He’s quiet, but he is thinking a lot when he’s quiet.”
When Adams took his first visit to Auburn, he was impressed. He liked the family feeling. He liked the town and the campus and the coaches. But the 2012 Auburn season went badly and the coaching staff was gone by early December. Adams crossed Auburn off his list of possibilities. He was considering Alabama, Georgia and maybe Clemson. His mother liked Georgia best.
“Being from Georgia, I always loved Georgia,” Ms. Young says. “But I told Mon that he needed to choose the school where he was comfortable. He was going to be the one going to school there, not me.”
Adams was set to take his final official visit to USC. He paid little attention when Gus Malzahn was named Auburn’s head coach. But when Malzahn hired Garner to coach the defensive line, things started to change.
“I really wasn’t going to come back, because I didn’t know anybody here,” Adams says. “Then Coach G called and Coach Malzahn called me. They asked me for a visit. Instead of going to USC for my fifth visit, I came here. I felt the same thing I felt the first time, so I decided to come here after all.”
And his mother says it was the right decision for him and for his family.
“I love it,” Ms. Young says. “He obviously made the right choice.”
Adams arrived at Auburn last summer as part of one of the nation’s top defensive line classes, joining 5-star defensive end signees Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel. In preseason camp, things didn’t come easily. There was even talk that a redshirt year might be in the works.
“I kind of struggled with the plays coming in,” Adams says. “Coach wanted me to study. I sacrificed and stayed here and studied and got better at it. That’s what helped me with that game. I thought about it every night when I would be in the dorm.
“I talked to my coaches back at home. Back in high school, I knew where everybody was supposed to be. I knew all the plays. I was captain of the defense. Then I came here and the plays kind of shocked me. They were kind of hard for me to learn. I know I’m a person that needs repetition. I just had to keep drilling it and keep seeing it and keep doing it over and over.”
By last Saturday, Adams had put himself in position to play. How much? He didn’t know. Not even Garner knew for sure.
“I was pleased with his attitude, his eagerness to learn, him being coachable and thick-skinned,” Garner says. “There probably isn’t a guy in my room that has been ridden harder than he has.”
Adams says he didn’t know what to expect from preseason camp, didn’t know how hard it would be. But he already knew about Garner’s intensity. He was prepared for that.
“I met Coach G when I was in the 10th grade,” Adams says. “It kind of shocked me then. I didn’t know if all coaches were like that. When I came here, I remembered and I knew it was going to happen. He just wants the best for us.”
For Adams, a lot of things changed last Saturday night. He’ll carry the burden of high expectations into Saturday’s game against Arkansas State. On campus, fellow students stop him and ask to have their pictures taken with him. In his hometown, the excitement hasn’t died down yet.
“People are just so excited,” Ms. Young says. “My girls and I are so proud. Everybody is. He was out there after the game giving autographs. He was signing footballs, t-shirts, everything. My sisters, my brothers, everybody was so proud of him.”
Adams’ college career is just beginning, but the NFL is his ultimate goal. He says he still has much work to do, much to learn. He says will succeed. He must.
“I feel like I’m playing for my family,” Adams says. “A big reason I play football, besides loving the game, is because I want to support my family. A lot of people have been there for me and helped, but if it wasn’t for mom, I don’t know where I’d be.”
Saturday was a day of firsts for Adams and other Auburn freshmen. It was during Auburn’s traditional Tiger Walk that the emotions began to boil.
“Tiger Walk is where it really hit me,” Adams says. “I was about at the end, and shivers just went through my body. It was great. I knew it then that it was gametime.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: