AUBURN, Ala. — Casey Dunn’s decision to join Auburn football had a lot to do with books.
The two-time FCS All-America center from Jacksonville State — a team that almost beat Auburn in 2015 — felt he was getting complacent at the end of his junior year with the Gamecocks. That’s when he read a book written by a Navy SEAL that changed his perspective.
“It said don’t get comfortable, don’t get in a routine,” Dunn said Saturday. “I felt like sometimes last year I was getting in that routine. I chose to maybe step out of my comfort zone and push myself to become comfortable being uncomfortable.”
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The comfort level went out the window for Dunn. Instead of entering what could be a third All-America season with a Jacksonville State program currently ranked No. 5 in the FCS, Dunn arrived at Auburn in May as a graduate transfer.
If Dunn stayed with the Gamecocks, he would’ve had one of the most secure starting jobs on the roster. Instead, he dove into a tough competition at center with Austin Golson, a senior with two seasons of starting experience in the SEC.
Dunn isn’t in the projected starting lineup for the season opener against Georgia Southern, but the top five up front isn’t official just yet. Despite a likely spot on the sidelines to start the year, Dunn is positive about the decision he made.
“I’m loving it,” Dunn said. “It’s a great transition coming from the FCS, just pushing yourself and growing and being able to compete at the highest level of college football. It’s been great.”
In addition to the Navy SEAL book, Dunn also came to Auburn because of “the books” — his academic career.
Dunn graduated from Jacksonville State, where he said he had reached his “full potential,” with a degree in industrial leadership. He came to Auburn with hopes of being in civil engineering, but those plans changed because of NCAA rules requiring graduate transfers to pick a graduate program.
“I went with community planning, which they say was a good Masters program if you’re looking for a civil engineering,” Dunn said. “I’m actually loving that program now and it’s the right fit for me. As looking past football getting a job, I just fell in love with the program in like the first class. I’m happy I came here and chose to excel at the highest level.”
Auburn coaches say Dunn’s brains also shine through on the field. Center is one of the most mentally demanding jobs on the field, and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has often referred to it as the “second quarterback” of the offense.
Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand said the Tigers moved the ball better earlier in camp with Golson at center, but Dunn made big impressions in a short amount of practice time.
“He’s a real football-smart guy with a lot of savvy,” Hand said. “From a technique and fundamental standpoint, he’s a really good technician. Now, the thing that’s probably his biggest challenge is just when he’s in a ‘BOB’ situation — a big-on-big situation — when he’s managing down in and down out playing against SEC tackles.”
If Dunn doesn’t start, he gives Auburn an extra layer of security. Golson could move to virtually any position up front in case of a first-team injury, and the Tigers saw the value of depth at center last fall when Xavier Dampeer missed several games.
“Probably my biggest fear besides the quarterbacks all getting hurt is your center — snapping the football and the timing and everything that goes with that,” Malzahn said last month. “That is a blessing to have that many guys who can snap a ball.”
Dunn said he is open to playing different positions at Auburn, but he’s stayed at his natural spot of center during fall camp. The former All-American sounds ready to take on his role for the Tigers, wherever it may be.
“Whatever I can do to make the team better and help the team,” Dunn said. “[I am] coming in every day and having the right mindset to whatever position I need to fill, whatever position I need to play in order to win an SEC championship and win a national championship.”