Daniel Thomas has seen the change plenty of times.
Standing in shorts and slide-ons downstairs in the athletics complex, relaxing after another fall workout, the senior shook his head thinking about what happens in full pads — when he and his teammates suit up and strap on a warrior’s gameday gear.
“Obviously, when you put the pads on, it separates the men from the boys,” he said.
That’ll happen today, when Auburn gets back on the practice field in full pads and primed for full contact for the first time in fall camp.
Auburn opened camp last Friday in helmets and shorts. Sunday, the team started its acclimation to the August heat in shells — helmets, shoulder pads and shorts.
Today marks the real deal.
Preseason camps kicks off in earnest, and it’ll feel like football is finally here.
“You can see who really wants to tackle, who really wants to have that contact,” Thomas said. “I feel like the pads is real football.
“There ain’t no T-shirt All-Americans out there.”
Thomas is a four-year contributor in the Auburn secondary, going into his second season as the starter at strong safety. He knows as well as anybody how different things can be behind the facemask when it’s time to run at full speed — and when 11 opposing players are unleashed at full speed, as well.
Especially for defensive players like him, the chance to get in full gear again offers the opportunity to finally put a long summer’s worth of strength and conditioning work to good use, and the same goes for the linemen in the trenches, whose footwork drills and playbook preparation can only take them so far before it’s time to get in gear and hit.
“Football is all about that contact. Especially for us, when we put those shoulder pads on, it’s full go,” senior right guard Mike Horton said.
Horton and Thomas both spoke after Auburn’s Sunday practice.
After today’s first workout in full pads, the Tigers will take Wednesday off before hitting Jordan-Hare Stadium for the team’s first scrimmage this fall.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn always puts an emphasis on those scrimmages, in which the coaches can put their players in game-like scenarios in what they consider to be the ultimate proving grounds to find who’s ready to compete on gamedays in the fall.
Malzahn talks about “gaining information” from those scrimmages, about putting their players in different situations and learning strengths and weaknesses in evaluation — and Horton said the players learn plenty from those scrimmages, too.
“It’s a different tempo when you don’t have pads on,” Horton said.
And it’s a different challenge when those pads go on — but one the Tigers are ready to take on.
“I’m actually looking forward to it, just to see everybody get after it,” Thomas said. “I’m ready.”
Today’s jump into gear marks another big step toward kickoff Aug. 31 against Oregon at AT&T Stadium in Texas.
“You like to see where their hearts at — see who really wants to be out here and play for Auburn,” Thomas said.