McCALLA, Ala. -- Malcolm Askew stood nervously awaiting his turn at the Oklahoma drill. As a defensive back, his job was to fight off a blocker and tackle the running back. He’d done it before, but that was in high school. This time, he was at Auburn going against guys who were in college.
When his turn came, he moved into position. All eyes were on him – his new coaches, his new teammates – it was a big moment. Without thinking, he shed off the block and took down the running back. In fact, he won two of his three reps. It was a win, something he could take back to his hometown and brag about to his peers. It was also proof to himself that he belonged.
Askew, an ESPN 300 athlete, was one of three early enrollees who were allowed to participate with Auburn during its bowl practices on campus last month.
The team was busy preparing for its game against Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, but Askew, fellow high school senior Kenney Britt, and former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham were all on hand in an effort to get acclimated at Auburn.
"I think more than anything it gives them an idea of what a practice routine looks like," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "There's nothing like getting out there with your teammates in a practice-like situation. It will give them more of a foundation. Once spring gets here, it won't just be a shock to their system the way practice is set up, the tempo."
Not every drill went as smoothly as the Oklahoma drill for Askew. There was a man-to-man drill that he messed up the first time, and defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff, who has since taken the defensive coordinator job at Ole Miss, let him know about it. McGriff and the other coaches didn’t hold back on Askew just because he was the new guy.
“They chewed me out,” Askew said. “But that’s just coaching. I can take that.”
Askew and the other newcomers took part in drills, but they were simply bystanders when Auburn ran its team portion of practice. After all, the Tigers still had a bowl game to prepare for.
But even in just a couple days, the three early enrollees made an impression on their coaches and teammates. Stidham, in particular, showed why he was the No. 1 overall player in the ESPN JC 50 and why many think he will come in and pry the starting quarterback job away from Sean White.
“I know Coach Malzahn is going to give them all an equal opportunity,” Askew said. “But right now, with the other quarterbacks, Sean and John [Franklin III], they’re hearing Jarrett is coming in and he’s going to be the guy. That’s just going to push them to work even harder.
“It’s up for grabs, but Jarrett looks like the guy right now. He can really sling it.”
Like Stidham, Askew might also be asked to play early next fall. The former high school quarterback, who attended the same school as Auburn legend Bo Jackson, is expected to play defensive back for the Tigers. The coaches plan to start him at nickel where playing time will be up for grabs now that Johnathan Ford has moved on.
Enrolling early and participating in the bowl practices will only help his quest to get on the field early and contribute as a freshman.
“I was a little nervous going down there for bowl practice,” Askew said. “I’m still supposed to be in high school. But enrolling early, I feel like that will help me adapt early on and I won’t be a guy who comes in May or in June or July. It will help me, this spring semester, to get through everything, and that way when fall camp rolls around, it’s first nature to me.”
Askew, Stidham and Britt all officially enrolled at Auburn on Sunday. They will join their teammates in the weight room and in conditioning over the next two months, and by the time spring practice rolls around in March, they will simply be one of the guys.
For a few days, though, they got a taste of life as a college football player. They took part in practices, team meetings and team functions. But the best part? They got to enjoy three meals a day at the team facilities.
“That’s one of the main reasons I’m ready to get back,” Askew said.