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Frosh Etheridge to get playing time

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Frosh Etheridge to get playing time

Safety from Charles Henderson wasn't heavily recruited, but he has impressed coaches

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Sports Reporter

AUBURN -- It was early in August camp, during a one-on-one drill, when Auburn's Zac Etheridge made what could be one of the most important plays of his freshman season.

Etheridge was guarding receiver Tim Hawthorne on a pass play. They both wrapped their hands around the ball at the same moment, but Etheridge wrested the ball away.

"I just kept competing and I snatched the ball out," Etheridge said. "And I guess the coaches saw how I was competing and they liked it."

The coaches, not surprisingly, have been impressed with the young safety from Charles Henderson High in Troy. With only 10 days to go until Auburn's season opener, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp says Etheridge is one of only two freshman defensive players who are almost certain to earn playing time this year. (Linebacker Craig Stevens is the other).

"Zac looks like a guy who can contribute for us," Muschamp said.

All this is heady stuff for a player who wasn't heavily recruited by SEC schools, played for a struggling high school team and wasn't given much of a chance to play immediately.

If Muschamp sticks to his plan, Etheridge will be traveling with the team while many of his peers are enduring brutal, early-morning "redshirt workouts."

"It really wasn't about redshirting or not redshirting," Etheridge said. "If I had to redshirt, I would have gone out there and still done my best and worked hard every day. But it's just an honor to go out and play on Saturday with the team."

Muschamp has cautioned that Etheridge will be brought along slowly. He won't be put in high-pressure situations right out of the gate.

"We've got to guide him along and make sure we don't put him in a situation where he can't be successful," Muschamp said.

Etheridge started preseason camp at cornerback but moved to safety because of injuries at the position. The transition was startling at first for Etheridge, who said he had to learn how to become more vocal despite being a newcomer.

"It's a lot different," he said. "Safety is like being the quarterback. You've got to know all the calls. You've got to know what to call and tell people what to do. There's a lot to know."

Etheridge said he has spent every night studying the playbook or looking over film with coaches. Between all this, he's battled a hip pointer that caused him to miss a few practices.

"He's a tough kid," Muschamp said. "He's battling through it. He's going through the freshman syndrome. Classes have started, and they still don't understand how to balance the social, academic and athletic aspect."

Etheridge said the overwhelming time demands have been the biggest adjustment to college life.

The next big hurdle comes Sept. 2 against Washington State, when he could play in front of 80,000 fans for the first time in his life.

"I mean, if you ain't nervous, you ain't playing football," Etheridge said. "Everybody's nervous in football. As a freshman going out there, I've never been in a stadium that large. I'm going to be nervous, but (after) that first snap, I'll get back to thinking how I played in high school.

"I know the game speed is a lot different. So I'm just going to have to play relaxed. Don't get uptight and nervous about getting beat, and just play ball like I normally do."

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