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Spiritual Bond at AU

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Prayer Warriors: Faith keeps Auburn together

Tom Peavy

Staff Writer

Friday, November 5, 2004

Members of any athletic team typically form strong bonds that last lifetimes.

Those bonds come from months of hard work, side by side, battling for personal achievements as well as helping teammates achieve their own personal accomplishments - all with the goal of team success.

Auburn's football team has shown a strong, unified bond in 2004 - one that has helped propel the No. 3 Tigers into the national spotlight at 9-0.

But Auburn's football team has not bonded strictly from on-field successes. Instead, many of the Tigers have turned to a higher power for inspiration and guidance.

"You always have to have God first in everything you do," defensive end Stanley McClover said. "We all have devotionals and we do prayer requests and praise reports - and it's been helping us all year."

When head coach Tommy Tuberville took over the helm at Auburn in 1999, he entered a program in chaos after then-head coach Terry Bowden resigned mid-season. Auburn was also dotted with players who found their way into the headlines for off-field problems.

The program seemed to be the epitome of dysfunction. So to bring in a little function, Tuberville brought on the Rev. Chette Williams to serve as the team's chaplain.

Williams made an immediate impact on Auburn's players, and many openly shared how Williams' guidance had helped turn lives around - and helped pull a separated bunch into a tight-knit band of brothers.

In former Auburn defensive back Rob Pate's book, "A Tiger's Walk: Memoirs of an Auburn Football Player," he spoke of the beginning of team prayer meetings and how the meetings grew into a regular part of weekly team functions that ultimately bonded players together.

"Attendance at the prayer meetings continued to grow over the last two weeks of the (1999) season. And as the room began to bulge with players and a handful of coaches, a bond began to form that was unbreakable," Pate said in his book. "You began to realize how little you actually knew the guy in the chair next to you, the guy you've lined up next to for years. You began to realize that everyone has a story, that everyone has pain in his life and that everyone needs encouragement.

"And what those meetings did for us on the field was extraordinary. We were willing to lay down our lives and die for each other. We were ready to fight to the death for our coaches."

That same team chemistry is evident in 2004, and the spiritual bond seems stronger than ever.

"Brother Chet has done an outstanding job. We have people on this team that show outstanding faith from top to bottom," running back Carnell Williams said. "From the best player down, we're all in this together and we're all pulling to please the Lord. We feel He is with us and we can do all things through Him.

"Not to take anything from the other teams I've played on, because I've felt that bond and that chemistry. But this team is special. We're really out there for one another."

On-field guidance

It's the fourth quarter of the LSU game and Auburn is trailing 9-3, but driving for a winning score.

Quarterback Jason Campbell fires a pass to the end zone to the waiting arms of receiver Courtney Taylor, who hauls in the bullet for the score and the Tiger victory.

With such a huge, game-breaking catch - the first of Taylor's career on top of that - one would expect a wild, jubilant celebration with a ball spike, a little dance, a salute to the crowd ... but no.

Taylor simply dropped to a knee and prayed - and that was his celebration.

That scene has been played out numerous times for Taylor since that first touchdown. But while some will look at Taylor's end zone prayer as clich?, the sophomore, who lists one of his favorite movies as "Passion of the Christ" and reading the Bible as an interest in the Auburn football media guide, takes his prayers to heart.

"It just gives you a lot of inspiration and lets you know there is always something there you can count on," Taylor said. "It's not so much as in just football, but outside of football spiritually. Just having that strong faith in God is important and it has really helped pull us all together."

But Taylor isn't the only Tiger who openly shows his spiritual side.

On any given Saturday, a multitude of players can be seen huddled together near Auburn's bench in prayer following a touchdown or any other big play.

And the huddle isn't just an exclusive group. The prayer group includes offensive players, defensive players, kickers, holders, white players and black players - all massed together to give thanks.

And it is that unbiased togetherness that Auburn's players cherish in their spiritual bond.

"A lot of guys have the same belief and we all know you have to love your neighbor," Taylor said. "We go in and off the field every day pretty much Monday through Saturday. We all just have that bond and it pulls us together. It makes things so much easier to come in every day. We don't have any animosity on this team - it's just all of us pulling together for each other."

Their faith also carries into the locker room, and while fans in the bleachers never see it, many of the Tigers have stated on numerous occasions how their pre- and postgame routines include spiritual guidance in some form.

Hard Fighting Soldier

While many players on the 2004 Auburn team speak openly of their spiritual beliefs and show their use of prayer during games, the faith-based bond became no more evident than on Tuberville's weekly post-game television show following the Tigers' victory against Ole Miss this past Saturday.

A mainstay on Tuberville's show includes the team singing the Auburn fight song, "War Eagle" in the locker room following every game. But after the Ole Miss game, Auburn's players followed the fight song with a stirring and powerful rendition of the spiritual song, "Hard Fighting Soldier."

The song includes the repeated line "I am a hard fighting soldier, on the battlefield" and references Bible passages Ephesians 6:11, "Put on the full armor of God" and Psalm 60:12, "With God we will gain the victory!"

Credit for the team learning the spiritual song is handed to sophomore tight end Kyle Derozan, who decided to sing the song during a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting after the scheduled singer failed to show.

"That song has always stood out to me and every week we're in a battle with opposing teams," Derozan said. "At that meeting Brother Chet asked me to sing and I figured I could share that song with the team and we could use it as a motto.

"God said, 'Whenever you go to battle take with you the breastplate of righteousness, sword (of) salvation.' So I thought if I could relate that to the Bible and my life, my teammates could see where I was coming from with it."

Derozan's introduction of "Hard Fighting Soldier" spread quickly through the team, and it became a common song to sing during the team's prayer meetings. It was then adopted as the team's song and rallying cry, but did not make its first locker room appearance until the Ole Miss game.

"That's our song. We sing it every Friday before games," McClover said. "It's something we started this year and it's working out good. I think it's something we're going to have to start up on Saturdays now too."

While opinions vary on favorite lines from the song, a common favorite is the thunderous, staccato line, "You gotta walk right, talk right, sing right, pray right, on the battlefield."

The song has also become a favorite subject on Auburn Internet message boards - so much so that many fans have been searching for the history of the song and speaking of attempts to adopt the song for use in the stands - all to show the team's visible spiritual bond has carried into the fan base.

"The songs, Scripture - once everything came together we all realized we are all a family," Derozan said of the impact the team's spiritual faith has had. "We all look out for each other and take care of each other in everything. It just makes me proud to be a part of this team right now."

tpeavy@oanow.com | 749-6271 ext. 3111

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Wow! David, I do not know HOW I missed this post before, but, I am certainly glad I found it!

The team chemistry, plus the FAITH that runs strong from top to bottom, is another reason why I feel this team is special and why I am PROUD to be an AUBURN TIGER ! ! !

p.s. As I type this, "Eye of the Tiger" just started to play on the radio....... :D

Keep the Faith...God Bless..WAR EAGLE ! ! ! !

O N E at a time..... :au:

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