Anchoring the right side of the Auburn offensive line is Moody’s Chad Slade; taking care of business defensively as a defensive end is Odenville’s Dee Ford.
After experiencing unbelievable comeback wins over Georgia and Alabama, the Tigers won the SEC title game with a win over Missouri.
Now, there is one more piece of hardware the two men from St. Clair County want to bring home: the Crystal Ball.
Slade graduated from Moody in 2010, and was recruited by none other than Gus Malzahn, then the offensive coordinator on the Plains.
Slade was a redshirt freshman in the fall of that year, when Auburn defeated Oregon in the BCS National Championship game.
This time, Slade will start in the BCS title game when the Tigers take on Florida State in Pasadena this Monday.
Slade said this has been an unbelievable year. The Tigers finished 3-9 in 2012, and Malzahn came back to Auburn to replace Gene Chizik as head coach. Slade said it was something that required adjustment.
“We had to buy into his (Malzahn's) philosophy,” Slade said. “We had to forget about last year, and work hard. He told us not to worry about tomorrow, but just take one day at a time.”
After Auburn lost its only game of the season at LSU, Slade and his teammates continued to take just one game at a time.
Slade remembered the whipping suffered at the hands of the Aggies last year at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Final score was 63-21.
“We knew it was going to be a battle (in 2013),” Slade said. “Going up against the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in Johnny Manziel was going to be a tough challenge. They had the 12th man, and the crowd was going crazy.”
Auburn beat Texas A&M 45-41 after Dee Ford dropped Manziel for a loss on fourth down with only seconds remaining.
“It was a great experience beating a Top 10 team that day,” Slade said. “It was a really good feeling.”
4th & 18. One last shot. Slade was on the field blocking for quarterback Nick Marshall when the ‘Prayer at Jordan-Hare’ took place.
“I knew we had to get a first down,” Slade said. “I knew Nick had to have plenty of time. When he threw the football, I was thinking Georgia could intercept it or knock it down.
"I hit somebody, and then turned around. I heard the roar of the crowd, and everything else after that was like slow motion. I saw Ricardo Louis catch the football and race into the end zone. You just don’t think of stuff happening like that.”
Then came the Iron Bowl, and the final play. The missed field goal by Bama fell into the arms of Chris Davis, who returned it 109 yards for the winning touchdown.
“Again, I was just shocked,” Slade said. “At first, I thought the field goal was good as I watched it from the sideline.
"Then I saw Chris catch it, and I was thinking we were going to overtime. I saw the wall form for him, and I thought he might have a chance. When he got past that first wave of potential tacklers, I knew he was gone.”
Slade said it is like a dream come true to be playing for a national championship.
“It’s going to be a great experience,” he said. “It is definitely something you never expected coming off a 3-9 season.
"We just have to prepare and get ready. Prepare, go through all the events, and then go for it all. It’s a good feeling.”
Slade said through the season, he has not thought about Florida State or the national championship at all.
“Coach has taught us to take one game at a time,” Slade said. “Now, it’s time to prepare for Florida State.”
A 2009 graduate of St. Clair County High School in Odenville, Ford will be playing in his last game as an Auburn Tiger on Jan. 6 against Florida State. He said this past year has been great, and he is very excited about being in Pasadena.
Ford was recruited by Tommy Tuberville, and Malzahn is his third coach at the Plains.
“When he first arrived as our new head coach, Gus Malzahn told us there was no reason why we could not play for a national title, and here we are,” Ford said. “He pretty much picked us up while we were down, and put us back to work.
"He had high expectations. He worked us from the beginning. I think we have improved with each game.”
When talking about his sack on Manziel that helped the Tigers defeat Texas A&M 45-41, Ford said it was not about him.
“It was a collective effort from 11 guys on defense,” Ford said. “I was happy for the entire team.”
Ford said the play at the end of the Georgia game was a play they practiced every Thursday.
“Coach Malzahn has taught us to play each and every down as if it were our last down,” Ford said. “It was just meant to be.”
Ford was on the field during the last play of the Alabama game.
“We called timeout, and Coach Malzahn decided to change kick returners, and put Chris Davis back there,” Ford said. “It was not a play of luck. We had every intention of running that kick back if it was short. It worked to perfection.”
When he came out of SCCHS, Ford was 6-2, and weighed 200 pounds. Four years later, he has grown an inch taller, and beefed up to 240 pounds. At the beginning of the season, he was selected to be an All-SEC first team defensive lineman. He has lived up to the billing.
“We continue to shock the world,” Ford said. “You would think the world would start believing in us, and quit being shocked by what we do.
"It is truly a humbling experience and I am just very blessed.”
Adversaries in high school, Ford and Slade have had a chance to spend a lot of time together the past couple of years.
“He always gives me a hard time about being from Odenville, and I give him a hard time about being from Moody,” Ford said with a chuckle. “He’s a great guy.”
Ford said there is only one piece missing from a puzzle he has been working on for the past four years: a BCS National Championship title.
By about 11 p.m. on the night of Jan. 6, Ford hopes to make his puzzle complete.
Contact Gary Hanner at email@example.com.