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Heavy local presence for Auburn Tigers

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

One year ago, the Callaway Cavaliers and Troup Tigers played a memorable game where they combined for more than 100 points.

Callaway running back Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby and Troup quarterback Kobe Hudson did a lot of the damage that night, and they both went on to enjoy phenomenal senior seasons.

Those two play-makers are now wearing the same uniform, and they’ll be on the field on Saturday as their Auburn Tigers open their season against the Kentucky Wildcats.

While Bigsby and Hudson aren’t starting, they’re both listed high on the depth chart and will likely see significant time on the field.

Two other former Callaway Cavaliers may also get some playing time against Kentucky on the offensive line.

Keiondre Jones, a red-shirt freshman, is second on the depth chart at right guard, while freshman Tate Johnson is number two on the depth chart at left guard.

Bigsby and Hudson were two of the prized member of Auburn’s 2020 signing class.

Bigsby, after running for more than 2,000 yards as a junior, had 1,636 yards with 27 touchdowns as a senior.

In his final high-school game, a 39-35 loss to Brooks County in the state semifinals, Bigsby ran for 270 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns.

“You talk about Tank Bigsby, you have to talk about effort,” said Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins, who coached Bigsby for four seasons.

“I’ve been coaching football a long time, and the effort he plays with, that he practices with, might be the highest I’ve seen. Talking to other coaches, and this means a lot to me, I hear those same comments. It’s incredible effort that he displays on the field, but I see it at practice. He’s going to run a play out 40 yards down the field each time. He cares about his team, he’s big-hearted, and I know he’s going to be successful at Auburn. I’m looking forward to seeing him play on Saturdays.”

Bigsby had plenty of options when it came time to choose a college, and he decided Auburn was the right fit for him.

“It felt like home,” Bigsby said. “It felt like I was a member of the family.”

When Bigsby made his commitment to Auburn, he talked about how nice it would be to be around some familiar faces, including three former teammates.

“It’s amazing,” Bigsby said. “I’ll have somebody I know there, and there’ll be a lot of people from here there.”

One of those people Bigsby knows well is Tate Johnson, who helped open holes for him in the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

When Johnson signed with Auburn in December, he said he was looking forward to going up against the best players in the country.

“I love competing,” Johnson said. “I think I’m a very physical o-lineman. I’ll attack it. That’s what the SEC West is. Physicality. I can’t wait to get there. That’s what I’m excited for is the physicality.”

Johnson transferred to Callaway before his junior season, and he helped Bigsby run for nearly 4,000 yards in two years.

“Tate jumped in very fast, and was a difference-maker right out of the gate,” Wiggins said. “Even though he’s only been with us for two years, it feels like he’s been with us longer than that. He had relationships with his teammates from years ago, and he’s been a difference-maker on offense, and on the defensive line late in the year. He’s a big road-grader at right tackle, and he’s worked to get better. He’s taken advantage of the opportunity to play on the defensive line, and he played well. He really contributed wherever he was at.”

For Johnson, part of the appeal of Auburn was the chance to continue playing with Bigsby and Jones.

“We’ve all built a great relationship over the past few years,” Johnson said, referring to Bigsby and Jones. “To bring that to Auburn right away, it’s special.”

Keiondre Jones was a four-year starter at Callaway, and he didn’t play during his first season at Auburn and was red-shirted.

“It was humbling,” said Jones, who has four seasons of eligibility remaining. “Coming from being a four-year starter (at Callaway), sitting on the bench and not playing a game was a battle to say the least.”

While Jones didn’t play in a game, he was able to lock horns with Auburn’s first-team defense in practice, and that included current NFL defensive linemen Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson.

“I went against Derrick, and Marlon, every single day,” Jones said. “So that built my confidence going against those boys. You’re not going to see many Derrick Browns. If I could hold my own against them, I should be fine next season.”

Kobe Hudson, who was a standout wide receiver at Troup before moving to quarterback for his final two seasons, was heavily recruited by Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.

“For me, I wanted to have a great relationship with the head coach,” Hudson said when he signed. “Me and Gus Malzahn, we built a great relationship. He’s like another father to me.”

Hudson enjoyed a remarkable high-school career, and he was the Class AAAA player of the year in 2018 after leading Troup to the state semifinals.

Hudson threw for 3,386 yards with 32 touchdowns that season, and he also ran for 1,410 yards with 18 touchdowns.

Tanner Glisson, Troup’s head coach, appreciated what Hudson and his family meant to the Troup program.

“You don’t find it every day that a family will allow a kid to be coached really hard,” Glisson said. “And we were pretty up-front that it wasn’t all going to be roses, especially when you’re the star you’re held more accountable than anybody else. But this family allows him to be coach really hard, and I’m indebted for that. Any coach in America will feel my passion with that. That’s a real big deal. A lot of times parents these days and players look for easy ways out, and sometimes there’s no easy way. I’m real appreciative for a family of that high character, and I know Gus is real happy to get a family like that, too. I hope they’re always a part of the Troup family.”

Bigsby, Hudson, Jones and Johnson are a part of a veteran offense that should be able to put plenty of points on the scoreboard.

Among the returning players is sophomore quarterback Bo Nix, who was the freshman of the year in 2019.

“Excited isn’t even the word,” Jones said when looking at the potential of the offense. “We’re going to be ready. We’ve got a lot of offensive linemen to replace, but I think we’ll be just fine. I don’t think there’ll be a drop-off at all. I think it’s going to be special. The offensive line with coach (Jack Bicknell), it’s going to be a special thing.”