By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Just about everyone in Jordan-Hare Stadium was going nuts over Kyle Davis’ one-handed catch. Except Kyle Davis.
After hauling in a 42-yard reception against Arkansas State, using only his right hand to snatch the ball out of the air, Davis casually tossed the football to the official. No big deal.
“When it happened it was just like second nature,” Davis said.
Auburn’s receivers had been working on one-handed catches after practice in the spring and summer.
“Just messing around, but practice makes permanent,” Davis said. “And so, it just came to me, and I didn’t have any other choice but to catch it one-handed, because he had my other arm.
“I was repping it all week in practice. I was just consistent with it. But I never had to do it with someone on me. I’m a firm believer in making something happen when you have the opportunity. I just made something happen when I had the opportunity.”
Davis is one of 10 true freshmen who have played so far this season for the Tigers. Tack on 10 more redshirt freshmen who have debuted in 2016, and you almost have enough newcomers to go 11-on-11.
“That means that we actually came in and did our job,” said Marlon Davidson, the first true freshman defensive lineman to start for the Tigers in the 30 years for which such records exist. “We excelled in the classroom, and really coming out here and getting coaches’ eyes, and showing that we can actually play. The 2016 class, that means a lot to our group, and to the rest of us who are going to play.”
Like Davis, Davidson enrolled early at Auburn and made an instant impact, earning a spot on the first team after just 8 spring practices. In three games, Davidson has made 8 tackles, including a sack.
“I exceeded my expectations. My family’s expectations,” he said. “Because I came in, did what I had to do, focused in the classroom, focused on the field, and just really working hard to get where I am now.”
Fellow true freshman defensive lineman Derrick Brown, the biggest player on the team at 6-5, 330, has also contributed, with a fumble recovery and a solo tackle.
“I feel pretty good about our class,” Brown said “I feel like there are a lot of key players who are in this class. We look forward to going together, continuing on into this program and making it better.
“You definitely see a bright side, and you see why we thought we had the best class coming in. We all came in and put in the work, so it’s showing now the result.”
Davidson and Brown both credit defensive line coach Rodney Garner with easing their transition from high school to the SEC.
“The adjustment is definitely harder than anybody could think,” Brown said. “Just having Coach G as a coach, it makes it easier. He gets on you, but at the same time, he’s always going to make sure you know what you need to know.”
“My pad level. Staying low, and just really playing more physical, and being more stout, and taking different coaching,” Davidson said. “It’s different playing under Rodney Garner. He’s a great coach, and he’s taught me a lot. Stuff that I never even imagined, and he’s just helped me.”
Auburn’s second leading receiver in yardage behind Tony Stevens, Davis averages 32 yards per catch. The Tigers’ underclassmen have been especially productive at the skill positions, with freshmen and sophomores combining for 1,177 yards, 86.1% of the Tigers’ total.
“If we’re doing this well as true freshmen, I’m really excited to see how all of us are going to develop,” Davis said. “I think it’s going to be something special.”
They’ve been through only three Tiger Walks, but that’s enough for Auburn’s freshmen to develop an appreciation for their fans.
“Thank you so much. We really do appreciate the support, because we don’t really have a lot of support except for the Auburn family,” Davis said. For them to still believe in us. Still be at every game. Still be with us, win or lose. That’s honestly just amazing to me. I just appreciate their loyalty. It’s great.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer