August 19, 2014



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AUBURN | Message boards are seen as wretched hives of scum and villainy by many people -- and for good reason.

Name-calling, baseless accusations and generally insensitive chatter are frequent transgressions. The (relative) anonymity gives people an opportunity to do and say things they'd never do or say in public. Negativity piques interest, we all know that, and message boards deliver plenty of it.

Yet there is another side to these online communities. For all the argumentation that can occur within the confines of a contentious thread, there is an esprit de corps that transcends the virtual world. Real people do really nice things when conditions merit.

That's where Dough For Dee comes in.

Bunker member dtrudeau, real name Dee Dee, was diagnosed earlier this year with an aggressive form of cancer that began in her lungs and metastasized to her brain. She's been receiving treatment at Duke University for the past several months, but her situation recently took a turn for the worse.

Dee Dee was given less than a year to live.

Dissatisfied with that assessment, she wants to take the fight to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. She'll be heading there in early September though funding that kind of trip, which could last weeks, is far from easy.

So fellow Bunker member JWalker71, real name Jim, organized an online effort to raise money for Dee Dee's treatments. He set the goal at $50,000 as a pie-in-the-sky kind of wish.

"I was hoping and praying for $10-15k," Jim wrote.

The Bunker came through. The fund cracked $10,000 within the first 36 hours. Once word of Dee Dee's fight and Jim's effort to help subsidize the cost of her fight hit the Main Board, money began pouring in from every direction.

The generosity has been nothing short of amazing.

Jim on Monday put $15,000 into Dee Dee's hands -- hours before she returned to Duke for another round of radiation treatments. He will send an additional $5,000 per week until the funds are exhausted, which won't be soon considering the fund has raised $32,000 to date.

"He deserves my gratitude, of course, but I love seeing others recognize what he has done for a complete stranger," Dee Dee wrote Tuesday morning.

Message boards have re-defined the idea of family to include people we've never met. The kinship is real.

So is the kindness.

As Gus Malzahn enters his second year as head coach at Auburn, most people are talking about his improving personnel situation.

Nick Marshall will be the first returning starter Malzahn has coached since moving to college ball in 2006. The addition of five-star wideout D'haquille Williams and the continued development of wideout Sammie Coates means Marshall will have a few elite targets this fall.

Tailbacks Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant provide a reliable base for the ground game, enhanced by an offensive line loaded with experience. The defensive line features five seniors and one immense (and immensely talented) sophomore in Montravius Adams. Both linebackers return. The secondary is loaded with experience.

Still, there is another encouraging sign.


Three observers who attended the Tigers' closed scrimmage last weekend were surprised by how quickly players on both sides of the ball were operating. Vigor was at its usual levels between the snap and the whistle, but the hustle exhibited between the whistle and the next snap was other-worldly.

"Big takeaway D was just as crisp at lining up at pace as O," one insider wrote. "Really impressive. Never seen anybody play that fast."

Malzahn became a coaching star by accentuating pace and finding ways to exploit the inherent advantage it creates. After 18 months of acclimation both on the field and in the weight room, the Tigers have become experts of expeditiousness.

That will make a difference this season.

A big difference.

I spent a little time writing about Gabe Wright the other day, which was more enlightening than expected.

Not that Wright ever is boring.

People sometimes ask me about my favorite Auburn players to cover. I've always felt that person was Brent Schoening, a funny and perceptive pitcher for Auburn during the late 1990s.

(As an aside, Schoening died in August 2009 after a diligent fight against leukemia. His foundation will hold its annual Strike Out Leukemia Weekend in September.)

In a different era, Wright might be that guy. He's exceptionally capable when it comes to talking with reporters -- offering humorous anecdotes, sharp insight disguised as fluff, a big smile and a genuine respect for what we do. He's also a fine football player who doesn't take himself too seriously. What isn't to like?

The reporter-player dynamic has changed so much, though.

I remember talking with Ben Leard, the former quarterback, during lunch at Sewell Hall during the 1999 season. We chatted about his concussions, why he chose Auburn over Miami, the incredible rise of wideout Ronney Daniels. It was a friendly thing. I was there to chronicle his career and, like most players of that era, he was appreciative of that effort. Always has been.

Over the years, I had some great conversations with Auburn players and coaches. I'm particularly grateful for the time I spent with Will Muschamp and Hugh Nall watching film, with Don Dunn learning how to cook on a grill, with Tommy Tuberville about the pressures of parenting, with Monreko Crittenden about his fight to keep weight off, with Jeno James about his anxieties about whether he'd play guard or tackle in the NFL.

Some of the greatest lessons I've learned were yielded during off-the-record chats with people. Even today, I think about former Auburn pitcher Hayden Gliemmo's patience when something in my life doesn't unfold as planned. His elbow hurt for reasons nobody could understand, so he managed the disappointment by transforming himself into a good corner outfielder.

I miss those days. I miss being able to talk with people in an unstructured environment. Just two people talking about stuff.

Interviewing athletes these days has become so regimented. Reporters are allocated x minutes to talk with a player -- with a university representative within earshot ostensibly to prevent the possibility of untoward questions.

That really helped Tim Tebow fend off questions about his virginity at Media Days 2009, no?

Auburn is restrictive when it comes to interviewing its athletes and coaches, yes, but those restrictions are no worse than similarly relevant schools. This is simply the new reality, though today's college players have no preparation for what happens in the NFL.

Reporters from big newspapers and websites will ask anything and everything. No fact is inconsequential. No potential dispute goes unwritten.

What does all this have to do with Gabe Wright?

He has that rare ability to connect with people. He's an engaging young man who represents Auburn well, steers clear of trouble, maintains an optimistic view at all times. He has so much more to offer than the athletic feats he achieves on the field.

His Twitter bio reads: "If all im remembered for when it's all said and done is being a good football player then i have unfinished bizness!"

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