AUBURN, Ala. — Little moments from the past four years have been replaying in Nick Ruffin’s mind.
The Duluth, Ga., native remembers his mom dropping him off at his dorm when he arrived on the Auburn campus. He recalls sitting quietly in the back of a meeting room with other freshmen football players.
But this spring, the defensive back and his fellow rising seniors have realized their time on the Plains is coming to an end.
“When you walk into your team meetings and you’re sitting on the front row and coach says ‘Hey, you guys are now the seniors,’ was definitely my ‘wow’ moment,” Ruffin said. “So when I sat down in that front row and I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is really it,’ is when I kind of woke up… I was like … I’m about to graduate soon. It’s definitely kind of a shock.”
With that understanding, Ruffin and his classmates have been working harder than ever through their final spring practices, preparing to make the most of their last year.
“My brother used to always say you can rest when you’re dead,” Ruffin said. “I’m here right now and I don’t have much time to improve. It’s my senior season and my rest time will happen when I decide to stop playing football. I’ll take my time to get better. After that, everything is what it is.”
That attitude has been paying off for Ruffin and safety Tray Matthews as they’ve helped their unit succeed through the first two scrimmages of spring.
Auburn’s defense forced a fumble and snagged an interception during this past Saturday’s scrimmage to go along with several tackles for loss.
“I just want to have a great year all around as a whole team,” Matthews said. “It’s not really about myself; it’s about the whole team. I just want to get that SEC championship. We’re going to take it one step at a time.”
Auburn’s defensive backs have been more active through the spring as offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey is balancing the Tigers’ offense with more passing options.
The mindset of senior receiver Jason Smith displays the level and intensity of on-field competition.
“I just want to win,” Smith said. “That’s my goal. I haven’t won any championships in my whole time playing football. That’s all I want. I want a championship.”
After catching 4 passes for 60 yards in 2016, Smith is hoping to have a breakout senior season. As an experienced receiver, Smith is trying to take on a bigger leadership role this spring, especially with the underclassmen.
“I think I’ve been doing pretty good. I just got to stay focused, stay consistent, be a go-to guy,” Smith said. “It’s been good. I’ve been ready to step up to the challenge, and I think we all are. Whenever somebody has to speak, the floor is open. Everybody’s got respect, whether they’re a senior or not. We’re all taking it well and doing pretty good with it.”
Whether the goal is to perfect technique or become more vocal, Auburn’s seniors have one goal in mind this offseason.
“Get better,” Ruffin said. “Anything I can do to better myself mentally, physically, emotionally even spiritually, I’m more than willing to do it.”
But as the countdown clock ticks, there’s one thing that’s most important.
“Just have fun,” Ruffin said. “Not everybody is blessed with the opportunity to come and play, especially here at Auburn. I’m just blessed to be here and I think for a while I kind of got away from that and I’m learning now just to enjoy it, enjoy the process, enjoy the daily grind, the practices, the workouts, because it’s not forever. It’s definitely, it’s ending soon.”