AUBURN, Ala. — By any measure, Travante Stallworth is fast. The Tigers freshman receiver was clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash coming out of high school in Leesville, La., a burner relative to the rest of his competition.
Now that he’s at Auburn, he doesn’t feel so speedy.
“Everybody’s the same speed here,” Stallworth said. “In high school, you have one or two key players. You’re the best on your team and you can fly by everybody. Now I’m in the SEC and everybody is battling for a position. They’re all fast.”
It’s been a reality check for many of Auburn’s freshmen in the first few days of August practice. High school stars are now at the bottom rung on the college totem pole, taking in each and every lesson from the older, wiser and more physically developed veterans on the team.
What’s the biggest hurdle for freshmen? Across the board, the answer is speed.
“We ran a fast-paced offense in high school, but this just brings it to a whole other level,” said tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, one of the gems of the 2009 recruiting class. “(Strength) coach (Kevin Yoxall) did a great job of conditioning us this summer, but it’s still really didn’t get us where we need to be with this offense. The main thing I’m having trouble with is the pace of it. We’ve been rotating every five plays, and it’s just tough keeping your breath the whole time.”
“In high school you can jog around some places,” freshman defensive end Nosa Eguae said. “But everything on this level is full speed.”
In an effort to get more instruction time and reps for the freshmen, head coach Gene Chizik has divvied up practice allowing a group of mostly veterans to take the field for the first half, while newcomers get the second half.
“They got the gist of how practice is going to flow,” Chizik said. “It’s a little different practice than I’m sure any of them are used to.”
A few freshmen have worked with the older group. Lutzenkirchen, Eguae and wide receivers DeAngelo Benton and Emory Blake, four players expected to compete for playing time immediately, have practiced alongside the veteran players.
Size doesn’t appear to be an issue for the 6-foot-4, 262-pound Lutzenkirchen, who worked as an H-back during summer workouts but expanded his role this August to slot receiver, a pair of positions he also played at Lassiter High in Marietta, Ga. To better understand what’s expected of him, he shadowed fifth-year senior tight end Tommy Trott.
“I’ve learned a lot just from watching what Tommy’s been doing, watching how they run their routes and how they’re sticking their routes and gaining speed after they make their cut,” Lutzenkirchen said. “It’s been good to just watch what they do and see how they practice, what their mentality and mindset is going into practice and coming out of practice.”
Another highly touted freshman, quarterback Tyrik Rollison of Sulphur Springs, Texas, has worked during the second session of practice, alternating reps with veteran Chris Todd and fellow freshman Clint Moseley the first two days. Neil Caudle joined him Thursday, no doubt helping him along.
Rollison, despite running a version of the spread in high school, said learning the play calls and concepts of Auburn’s offense have been the most difficult parts.
“I knew it was going to be kind of hard, but that’s what college football’s all about,” he said. “You gotta get out there and earn everything.”
Despite some of the players’ difficulty to keep up, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said he has kept the first week fairly simple.
“After the first week we’re going to start going,” he said. “We’ll see who can catch up. … The second week should separate people.”