Auburn players said Wednesday at SEC Media Days that coach Gene Chizik has done a great job of providing counselors and pastors to help the team move past the death of two former teammates in a shooting this summer.
HOOVER, Ala. — The Auburn Tigers have more on their minds than quarterback battles, suspensions and even workouts under the searing summer sun.
The Tigers are barely more than five weeks removed from a shooting that left two former teammates dead and a current player injured, and the wounds remain fresh.
“It hit us hard,” receiver Emory Blake said Wednesday at Southeastern Conference Media Days. “A lot of guys were really distraught about the situation. Coach (Gene) Chizik did a great job of providing counselors, pastors, whatever it took trying to get guys feeling better and get guys over the hump. Losing someone so close so instantly is tough. We really leaned on each other. We’re still trying to get through it.”
Former Auburn players Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips were among three people killed in a late-night shooting at a pool party near the Auburn campus June 9. Current offensive lineman Eric Mack was one of three injured.
Desmonte Leonard, 22, of Montgomery faces three counts of capital murder and three counts of second-degree assault.
“If anything, it’s made our team a lot closer,” tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said Wednesday. “It’s humbled us.”
Chizik said the team has been through difficult times since the June incident “and they’re not over.”
He said Mack, a potential starter, is physically recovered, at least.
“He’s still going through some challenges,” the coach said. “He and I spoke last night for a long time. He’s trying to move forward. Physically he’s OK, thank goodness. He’s trying to work on getting (into) football shape.”
Chizik opened his address to reporters by thanking people “for their outpouring of love” in the aftermath of the shooting.
Then he turned to football, much like the team is trying to do a couple of weeks before preseason camp.
There are plenty of football issues, too.
The biggest is the quarterback competition between Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley, which Chizik said remains “up for grabs.”
Frazier has drawn praise from teammates for his progress heading into his sophomore season under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.
“Totally different dude,” proclaimed Blake. “If I didn’t know Kiehl, I wouldn’t know it’s the same guy. He’s just changed so much. He’s come so far and such a long way since coach Loeffler got there. Just with his attitude. He’s always had a big arm. When he first got to Auburn last year, he was throwing darts. We were like, ‘Man, he’s throwing the ball hard.’ But his progressions and his reads have gotten so much better. It’s gotten him confident. That’s all a quarterback really needs, is confidence.”
Lutzenkirchen said Frazier has also been more vocal in workouts.
“Kiehl has taken that leadership role,” he said. “I think last year being a true freshman trying to lead an offense, he wasn’t that comfortable with it. Now, he’s kind of assumed it’s an opportunity for him to take the reins of this offense. He’s gained everyone’s respect with what he’s done this offseason. I think that’s just really good for his mentality and his confidence going into this fall.”
A third quarterback is just trying to work his way back onto the team.
Chizik sent freshman quarterback Zeke Pike home following the player’s arrest on a charge of public intoxication in June.
Pike enrolled in January and participated in spring practice but Chizik said no decision has been made on whether he’ll be back for two-a-day practices.
“If he comes back here, it’s because he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Chizik said. “He’s got a lot to do. Right now, we’re going to make that decision down the road.
“As we sit here today, he’s at home and he’ll continue to be there until I feel like it’s the right thing to do to bring him back. He’s got to do a good amount of things to get back there.”
FLORIDA SACK LEADER WILL PLAY THIS SEASON, STARTING QB UNDECIDED: Florida coach Will Muschamp said Wednesday that defensive end Ronald Powell will play this season.
The Gators starter and sack leader tore a knee ligament in the spring game. Muschamp said he’s not sure when Powell will return to the field but that he has been cleared for workouts.
Muschamp added Wednesday during Day 2 of SEC Media Days that quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are tied going into fall camp and both could play. They combined for two touchdown passes and six interceptions as freshmen.
The second-year coach has emphasized getting stronger late in games and improving on a turnover margin that was among the nation’s worst.