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The Dichotomy of a Football Player

Auburn's Ryan Pugh always makes his presence felt.

Four minutes and forty one seconds to go in the game, Auburn leading Mississippi State 17-14. It's second and eight, Cam Newton drops back to pass; he throws a screen pass to Kodi Burns to his right, who then throws it back to Newton. Problem is, State Defensive End Jonathan McKenzie has sniffed out the trickery and appears ready to tackle Newton. But as he does, Auburn Center Ryan Pugh lays a vicious hit on McKenzie, flattening him out on the turf. Newton picks up 22 yards and a first down at State's 25 yard line. The block sent ESPN announcer Rece Davis in to a frenzy exclaiming, "Center Ryan Pugh just Annihilated the only guy that had a chance to stop Newton!"

Yes, Ryan Pugh is the type individual that makes his presence felt. Whether he is pan caking a defensive lineman with a vicious block or helping a disabled child ride a horse. People always know when Pugh is in the house. He is a tough no nonsense offensive lineman playing in the nation's toughest football conference. No place for sissies here. SEC offensive lineman fight like hungry dogs in their games, because they know that each week it's either eat or be eaten by 300lb defensive lineman.

Pugh has been the anchor of one of America's top offensive lines; one that has combined for 109 starts. He has been a veritable ‘Mr. Versatile' for Auburn playing RT, LT, guard, and center. A prep star All American, he was recruited out of Hoover High in 2007 as the number one center recruit in the nation. He helped lead his team to a 6-A state runner up finish and was named the state 6-A Lineman of the Year. In addition Ryan was the 2007 6-A Heavyweight Wrestling State Champion. His wrestling skills contributed to his agility on the offensive line. Too bad Auburn no longer has a wrestling team or he might have been a national champion.

Mr. 'Versatile' has been the leader of the offensive line since becoming the starting center at the beginning of 2008. As the center, he has to be ' the leader.' He is the only player besides the quarterback to touch the ball every play. That fact makes his position the second most important on the offense. The center has to get players lined up (in spite of crowd noise), make a good snap exchange, protect his quarterback, and block for the runner.

Few in the SEC do as good a job of it as Ryan. For the second year he has led the team with 70 knock down blocks, and he leads an offensive line that is one of the best at protecting the quarterback. Auburn made 364 pass attempts last year and only gave up 21 sacks. His skills are especially valuable when the Tigers face a 3-4 defense. In which case the offensive line must have a mean and aggressive center, or there will not be much of a running game, not to mention the quarterback having to run for his life on every pass play.

The fact that Ryan has few equals was recently highlighted when he was named to the watch list for the Rimington Trophy. The Rimington is awarded annually to the top center in college football. He was also named last month to the Lombardi Trophy watch list given to the nation's best interior lineman or linebacker.

Now Pugh has been placed on another watch list. This one though is for his exploits off the field. The NCAA announced this past week that Ryan is up for the Lowe's Senior Class Award. The honor is given each year to the NCAA Division I Student-Athlete of the Year across nine different sports. Pugh is the only football player to be selected for the list from the South Eastern Conference.

The award is given each year in recognition of "great achievement during competition and in the community while staying in school." The Senior Class Award considers a student-athlete's achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character, and competition. It is an award for the true student-athlete and looks for students to "use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their community."

Ryan Pugh has definitely made an impact. Most fans know about Ryan Pugh the football player but few know about Ryan Pugh the man. He is not only a second team All SEC center , he made the Academic All SEC team for the past two years, and he is a three time Academic Top Tiger. He has started 33 games for Auburn while simultaneously maintaining a 3.59 grade point average.

Ryan has also given back to the community in several ways including working with Toys for Tots, the East Alabama Food Bank, the Student-Athlete Advisory Council, and volunteering both at Camp ASSCA, and at Storybook Farm. Camp ASSCA near Auburn is run for disabled children and Storybook is a therapeutic horse riding center.

If all that wasn't enough, Ryan provided leadership for a group of Auburn football players that went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic this past summer. According to Lowe's official release "Pugh wrote all of the other members of the (mission) team a heart-felt letter and asked them to pray and work to prepare themselves mentally, emotionally and spiritually so that they might have a great effect as they were to serve on the trip."

The release goes on to say that "Pugh is an intelligent, hard working student-athlete" and that "In an age where many young men look at college football as a stepping stone to the NFL, he truly is a student-athlete."

There have been some that have questioned Pugh's aggressive attitude and style of play on the field. They don't know Ryan Pugh the man. Ryan is a nice guy, a class guy, and an outstanding student-athlete. But when he suits up and runs out that tunnel, he goes through a metamorphosis. He becomes in his own words a "nasty, aggressive guy." One, we might add that opposing defenses better beware of, because ...

... Ryan Pugh always makes his presence felt.