AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn's Jermaine Whitehead was reinstated to the team last month. But after spending the last two games exclusively on special teams, Saturday marked the first time he was finally back on the field at his old spot: free safety.
The senior made his presence felt immediately, landing a big hit on Trey Williams to stop the Texas A&M running back in his track on the visitors' third possession of the opening period.
His biggest play came on the Aggies' final drive of the first half, however. With true freshman quarterback Kyle Allen having his way with the Tigers' secondary — having already completed 12 of his 16 passes for 187 yards and four touchdowns at that juncture — Whitehead made a leaping interception on the first play of the possession.
Whitehead finished with two tackles, both solo efforts.
While he was not made available for postgame interviews, his teammates were there to sing his praises.
"I thought Jermaine played awesome," junior linebacker Cassanova McKinzy said. "Even though all that happened, Jermaine is still a leader on this team. He came in, he played his role, he played very well and I give big ups to him."
Fellow defensive back Jonathan Jones was also pleased to see Whitehead return to the secondary.
"He's a veteran, so when he came back, he was back into the groove," he said. "It wasn't a bump in the road. He's been here before, so it was smooth."
Jones also said the rest of the team was excited to have Whitehead back in the fold.
"He's a good player," Jones said. "So any time you can add somebody who can come back and make plays, you're happy to have him."
Gus Malzahn was a bit more tempered with his words.
"I thought he did some solid things," the coach said. "That interception was big."
When asked when the decision was made to let Whitehead rejoin the defense, Malzahn would only say it came earlier in the week.
"We had him with the defense this week," Malzahn said. "He is a veteran guy. He knew what was going on, and that's the way it worked out.”