AUBURN, Ala. — Rodney Garner understands the formula for a winning defensive line in the SEC. And one of the most important aspects, the Auburn football defensive line coach believes, is depth.
“We’ve got to develop depth,” Garner said. “And I’ve been saying that since Day 1. We need to be at that 8-10 guys that are game ready.”
The veteran coach has seen good things during Auburn football’s preseason camp. He’s also seen fluctuation. Some days he thinks he’s closing in on eight or nine players he needs. On other days he’s unsure.
He is certain, however, that freshman Markaviest “Big Cat” Bryant has what it takes to compete and be successful in the SEC — perhaps even in his first season on the Plains.
“Football is important to him,” Garner said. “I think football is really important to him. That gives him a chance because what you find out now is these kids, they play and some of them are real good, but some of them … I don’t know. He’s like an old-school throwback the way he looks at football. It’s really, really, really important.”
Garner appreciates that.
“Some of these kids just don’t get it,” he said. “Some of that is society now is trying to create so much individualism with some of the attention guys are getting so early, this and that. They really are of the mindset of I, I, I, me, me, me, which you can’t be successful in football with that mentality. It’s definitely got to be about we. It’s got to be about us. It’s got to be about the team.”
Big Cat is one of those those team players. The Cordele, Ga., native played under Shelton Felton at Crisp County High School. He’s used to experiencing the ups and downs required to win.
Even when Garner, who holds the reputation as Auburn’s toughest coach, showed flashes of “Coach G unchained” during the first weeks of camp, Bryant “didn’t even blink.”
“I love having Big Cat here. I’m a Coach Felton fan,” Garner said. “I think he’s one of the up-and-coming rising stars in this game. I think he did a really good job with preparation for Big Cat understanding some of the stress and demands of college football.”
That’s not to say Big Cat won’t struggle. Felton and Bryant’s cousin, Montravius Adams, helped get him ready, but they can’t step into his shoes.
“He’s like any freshman,” Garner said. “It’s a different game.”
First off, the physicality is to a different level. Garner said where Big Cat might have seen 200-pound offensive tackles in high school, he’s facing more monstrous players now.
“Shoot, the dang tight end he’s got to go up against is 260,” Garner said.
But in the long run — largely because of his roots, the way he’s been developed, and his mindset — Garner sees Big Cat contributing in a big way.