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Auburn football: Tigers safety Zac Etheridge inextricably linked to Mississippi running back Rodney Scott

AUBURN, Ala. — It has been nearly a year since Mississippi running back Rodney Scott did so much by doing so little, lying still while trainers rushed to the aid of the motionless player on top of him, Auburn safety Zac Etheridge.

Scott’s actions that day — or inaction — played a huge role in preventing Etheridge from suffering long-term consequences following a wayward tackle.

It’s a story Scott doesn’t mind recalling.

“Everybody asks me about it,” he said. “I don’t mind talking about it, so it isn’t a bad thing.”

The tale is in the spotlight again with Auburn playing at Misissippi on Saturday, 364 days after the incident that inextricably linked Etheridge and Scott.

It was Halloween at Jordan-Hare Stadium when Etheridge lowered his helmet to tackle Scott. Instead, he collided with teammate Antonio Coleman, jamming his head into the defensive end’s shoulder pad.

Neither Etheridge nor Scott got up, although only one was by choice.

“It was just something in my mind telling he could be seriously injured,” said Scott, who was at the bottom of the pile. “By the time I was waiting for him to get up, he ain’t making no effort to get up. I just lay still.”

For 20 minutes, trainers tended to a motionless Etheridge, who cracked a vertebrae and tore ligaments in his neck. Scott stayed still underneath him, staring at the sky as the medical staff carefully strapped the Auburn safety to a stretcher.

Etheridge, his parents and Auburn coach Gene Chizik credit Scott’s quick thinking with preventing permanent damage.

“I thought it was important because you don’t really hear that many of those type of stories,” said Chizik, who made mention of Scott’s actions several times in media settings. “I thought it was a very unique situation. It was really a huge part in Zac’s recovery. That’s where it started.”

Etheridge eventually would recover.

He walked into the auditorium at the Auburn athletics complex days after the incident, his neck stabilized by a halo, in an invasive brace that he would wear for months.

By spring, Etheridge had shed the neck brace. He was cleared medically to play in mid-July and faced his first contact during two-a-days in August.

Etheridge has started all eight games this season and has shown no ill effects. His 45 tackles are second-most on the team, and he returned a fumble for a key touchdown in the fourth quarter against Arkansas.

“It’s just been amazing,” Etheridge said. “I’m playing football again less than a year. So far, it’s been successful.

“I really try not to think about what happened last year. It’s just trying to keep on playing and be a part of this team.”

“Just the fact that he’s sitting here playing in this game is amazing,” Chizik said. “I know he knows how lucky he is, and I’m sure he’s not going to forget that.”

The story has persisted. Scott was honored with the SEC sportsmanship award in June. The players, who have become friends and talk twice a month, were nominated for the Orange Bowl/FWAA Courage Award in September.

“I was surprised,” Scott said of the story’s lasting power. “I didn’t know it was going to get really big like that.”

A year later, the story still is being told.

“I guess just because you see two great guys with great character and belief and trust in God,” Etheridge said. “And that’s something that a lot of people want to see.”

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