Joey Gatewood jumped into a teammate. Bo Nix smacked another on the back of the helmet. JaTarvious Whitlow clapped his hands and shouted.
The Tigers roared in excitement on the first day of fall practice. And even though they were still in shorts, just starting camp in the August heat with kickoff still weeks away, the Auburn football team hit that practice Friday field like they were getting set for a game.
It’s simple, they’d say: Auburn is already competing for championships, even in preseason workouts.
Auburn started fall practice Friday, opening a camp that’s running 17 days until the start of classes Aug. 19. Auburn will open the season against Oregon on Aug. 31 at AT&T Stadium in Texas.
Before then, Auburn’s trying to work harder and smarter to improve faster than every other team out there with national championship aspirations.
For the Tigers, the race is on right now.
“We can’t have bad days — even good days,” Marquel Harrell said after that workout.
“Every practice has to be a great one.”
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn started his seventh season on the Plains in earnest on Friday, leading the team back out on the field for the first time since spring practice closed on April 13. The Tigers ran through drills in helmets and shorts. The team will don pads for the first time on Aug. 6.
Gatewood and Nix were the focal point for many media cameras welcomed to the first 20 minutes of the practice. Those two are competing for the Tigers’ starting quarterback job.
Malzahn had his eyes trained on them for plenty of time, too, but surveyed the entire field seeing his team get back into action.
“I really felt like our guys were excited about practice,” he said. “There was a lot of positive energy out there. One thing I told them after we were done is, we got a little tired toward the end — first time out, we had an extended time period off. Tomorrow we’ve got to come out here and we’ve got to finish practice better.
“But I loved our positive energy and everything that went with it.”
Malzahn said the coaches sent the older players out into drills first, to let the younger players stand back to watch and learn. He said newcomer graduate transfers Jay Jay Wilson and Zach Farrar fit naturally, like veteran players. He said the coaches have the confidence to install systems quickly with so many returners back.
As for the players, they already felt their feet running in a title chase.
“The little things, we have to do great,” Harrell continued. The left guard is one of five seniors returning along the Tigers’ offensive line. “Everything, we have to do great.
“We can’t take no days off, because the days we take off, another team is getting ahead of us. In order to stay ahead, we have to have great days all throughout the year.”
For them, they’re hopeful Day One was good enough to put the Tigers ahead of the curve.
“It was good to get back out there with my guys, just to run around,” senior safety Jeremiah Dinson said. Of course, practice will pick up next Tuesday when the Tigers put on pads and can go through contact for the first time this fall.
“It’s the first day. You know, you have your errors and things like that,” he also said. “But you know, I can say that we look a lot better.
“We’ve just got to keep putting in the work, man,” he added. “Like I said, it’s only Day One. We’ll put this day behind us and move forward.”
Malzahn said the Tigers will continue to work on themselves in practice through camp until right about the time class starts, when their focus usually shifts to opponent preparation and will shift to Oregon.