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Backfield of dreams

Trio plans to play for pay, but first is SEC showdown

Friday, December 03, 2004


Times Sports Staff pmarsh9485@msn.com

AUBURN - They have accounted for 4,703 yards this season running, throwing and returning kicks. They have pointed wayward freshmen in the right direction and inspired players young and old with their work ethic.

For the terrific trio in Auburn's backfield, the end is near. Quarterback Jason Campbell and tailbacks Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, seniors all, plan to be playing for money a year from now.

The football season of 2004 will be with them always.

Williams and Brown will remember it as the year they made what they say were the best decisions of their lives to pass up the lure of the NFL and return for one more run at a championship, the year they happily gave up individual glory and instead found strength in each other. Campbell will remember it as the year he escaped the criticism that plagued him for the first three seasons of his career.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville will remember them as the kind of players and people that come along rarely in a career.

"These guys have been great not only for our team, but for the SEC and college football," Tuberville said. "How they've played, how they've handled themselves, their unselfish acts on and off the football field are going to have a drastic trickle down effect for our younger players over the next few years."

For now, Campbell, Brown and Williams have some unfinished business. No. 3 Auburn (11-0 and 8-0) plays No. 15 Tennessee (9-2 and 7-1) in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday at Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. They'll play a bowl game after that, maybe for a national championship and maybe not. Then their college adventure will be over.

"This is the game you come to Auburn for," Campbell said. "You want to be the champion of the SEC. That's a very big deal. To have this opportunity to go out on this note means a lot to us. We want to go out the right way."

After so many games and so many early-morning workouts, they are as close as brothers. Surprises are rare.

"We just kind of know one another on and off the field," Williams said. "We know each other's ability and character. We have played so long together. It seems like forever. That's why this is special."

Brown says he never questions whether his friends are prepared or how they will react when things get tough.

"It kind of falls into sync when you play with somebody for so long," Brown said. "You don't worry about them giving all they have. You worry about what you have to do, because you know you don't have to worry about what Carnell or Jason is going to do."

Campbell has completed 150-of-219 passes this season for 2,137 yards and 16 touchdowns. He will leave Auburn as the most accurate passer in school history.

"No question about it," Tuberville said when asked if Campbell would play on Sundays next season. "There's not a better quarterback in college football this season. He's an unbelievable leader, one of the best I've ever been around."

Williams, named to the American Football Coaches Association All-America team Thursday, has rushed for 1,004 yards on 201 carries to move into second place all-time at Auburn. Had he not had two seasons cut short by injury, he might have challenged Bo Jackson's record of 4,303 yards. He averages 12.8 yards per punt return and has 1,489 all-purpose yards, leading the SEC in both.

Brown has rushed for 795 yards on 123 carries, a gaudy 6.5 yards per carry. He has caught 28 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown. He has 1,053 all-purpose yards, third best in the SEC, and is rated by some as the top running back in next spring's NFL draft.

"Guys like that just don't come along that often," Tuberville said. "If just one of them had been here, he'd probably be going to New York for the Heisman announcement. They don't care about it. They care about each other and they care about winning."

Saturday, they will try to help the Tigers go where no Auburn team has ever gone and run their record to 12-0. To do it, they'll have to beat Tennessee for the second time. Auburn romped to a 34-10 victory in Knoxville on Oct. 2.

"We see in the papers posted on our board that they're still not giving us any respect," Brown said. "I'm excited about playing them again and giving them an opportunity to come out and prove themselves."

Huntsville Times

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