Dec. 20, 2013
Sammie Coates goes high to catch a touchdown pass in the SEC Championship Game (Anthony Hall photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Sammie Coates is running down field, looking back for the football, and finding something more.
Auburn's leading receiver, who has five catches of more than 50 yards this season and is No. 2 in the nation in yards per catch, says his game and life is better in 2013. Has that helped carry Auburn to the BCS Championship Game against Florida State? Who's to say it hasn't?
Coates says first-year receivers coach Dameyune Craig helped get his attention.
"I think I focus more and I concentrate more now because last year," Coates said. "I wasn't really there. Coach Craig came in, he got me to start focusing and play my game. That's one thing I did. I thank Coach Craig for all he's done this year. He helped get everything under control and me to focus on what I'm supposed to do."
Coates has 38 catches for 841 yards and seven touchdowns. He's averaging 22.1 yards per catch. That's not bad for a team that runs it 72.4 percent of the time.
Coates was a deep threat last year, too, but the 2012 offense was not productive. It is this year with Gus Malzahn and Co. And with the new attitude Craig has brought to his receivers.
"He really made me grow up a lot," Coates said. "I knew I had to step up and grow up. He just helped me do that. I had to take another step in my life, grow up and become a better man. That's one thing he helped me do."
Craig arrived with credentials. He was a big-time quarterback when he played at Auburn and is considered a top-notch recruiter. And he's gotten through to his receivers, whether it's to catch touchdown passes or block down field in the running game.
"He's a very smart man. He played the game, so he knows exactly where a wide receiver needs to be with the timing and the cut and all that," Coates said. "He helped us out a lot because he knows that coming from a quarterback. It's big.
"He's going to be real with you no matter what it is. He's going to tell you how it is. That's one thing about him. He's going to be honest with you and tell you what you're not doing right or what you're doing right. He's going to do his best to help you fix it."
Coates has grown on the field. Off the field, too.
"I made a lot of big steps with my life. I got baptized. I tried to change my life around as far as doing the right things and helping others," he said. "It's just the little things I really haven't been focused. I've always been putting myself ahead of everything else. I just figured out that it isn't all about me. We've got a team, we've got a family outside this place. Auburn fans, they know they look up to us, kids look up to us.
"It's just like thinking about what I was doing last year. I really wasn't into football like I was supposed to have been. This year I'm into everything. Football. More focused on that. More focused on helping others, more focused on my schoolwork. It helped me be levelheaded and keep a style of mind."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine