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COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Auburn football opens practice facility doors to Tuskegee during construction

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The Tuskegee Golden Tigers practice at Auburn football’s indoor facility last Saturday in Auburn. Tuskegee’s game field is unavailable as the university puts down a new turf, and Auburn opened its doors to allow the team to scrimmage on a full 100-yard field.

With a little help from a neighbor, the Tuskegee football team scrimmaged at Auburn’s practice facility last Saturday while new turf is being put down at Tuskegee’s game field.

The two schools are just 20 miles from each other, and Auburn administration said it was a “no-brainer” to help out, while Tuskegee’s head coach Reginald Ruffin said the Golden Tigers are grateful for the favor.

Tuskegee will scrimmage again at Auburn this weekend. Tuskegee’s practice field is only about 80 yards, and the athletics department is currently laying down new turf on the playing surface at the Golden Tigers’ home Abbott Memorial Stadium.

Auburn scrimmaged in Jordan-Hare Stadium last Saturday and is scrimmaging there again this Saturday — so while the orange and blue Tigers are in Jordan-Hare, they’re opening the doors of the practice facility to the red and gold.

Ruffin is entering his first season as head coach at Tuskegee. Looking to simulate a game on a full field in practice, he said he recently reached out to longtime Auburn assistant Joe Whitt, who now works with Tigers Unlimited, and the dominoes started to fall.

“I wanted the guys to get a good feel of an NCAA regulated field. So I brought that to Joe Whitt, and dots just started to connect,” Ruffin said.

“Willie Anderson and Dameyune Craig and Takeo Spikes, all those former legends, they were really excited for us to be over there,” he added. “Bryan Harsin, I can’t say enough of Bryan, and Allen Greene.”

It’s important to Auburn to be able to help out when possible, said Brad Larrondo, Auburn associate athletics director and football chief of staff.

“Joe passed it along to us, and it’s like, ‘That’s an easy one. That’s a no-brainer,’” Larrondo said. “So obviously we get together to get everything that they need on their end and work it around our practice schedule, kind of dot the i’s, cross the t’s.

“It’s back-to-back weekends that we were able to be away from our practice area, they could come in, do what they needed to get done, get their work in, and then we were over at the stadium so we didn’t have to have too much traffic in one area,” he said.

There was some paperwork to get done but Larrondo said the biggest thing was just making sure too many bodies didn’t get caught up in one place — making sure there were plans and backup plans, so that lightning in the area or something else unforeseen wouldn’t force the two together and cause both teams to lose out on valuable preseason practice time.

“They were at the stadium and we were at the indoor,” Ruffin said. “That’s where Coach Harsin wanted to make sure that we have our opportunity to be there and they have their opportunity to be in the stadium and there’d be no distractions for both parties.”

Ruffin is glad that the passage down I-85 is more open than ever. Tuskegee and Auburn scrimmaged in baseball last fall at Plainsman Park. Ruffin said Tuskegee baseball coach Reginald Hollins is good friends with Auburn baseball coach Butch Thompson, so Ruffin, who serves as both athletics director and football coach at Tuskegee, recently had lunch with Thompson — and eventually met Auburn athletics director Allen Greene for another lunch.

Auburn and Tuskegee are also working to schedule a preseason exhibition in women’s basketball.

Ruffin is hopeful the relationship between the two schools continues not only when there’s a need but when there’s opportunity to grow. He said new Auburn school president Chris Roberts and new Tuskegee president Charlotte Morris have been in contact as well.

“President Roberts said that he wanted that partnership with Tuskegee and President Morris said she wanted that partnership with Auburn, and they were both happy that this did happen for athletics, but they’re also in talks with academics stuff too,” Ruffin said. “When those two things align — we’re neighbors, we’re side by side, not too far from each other, agricultural universities, veterinary medicine, engineering, we both kind of have that same relationship. Winning championships — we’ve got that same mentality.”

Tuskegee competes in Division II and the schools are not opposite each other in any regular-season setting. Auburn will scrimmage again in Jordan-Hare Stadium this Saturday before its open practice in the stadium on Aug. 27.

Auburn opens its season Sept. 3 against Mercer.

Tuskegee’s season opener is a day later, playing Fort Valley State in Cramton Bowl in Montgomery on a Sunday.

“That’s a tremendous university that’s 20 minutes from here,” Larrondo said. “They’ve got a great football program, great coaching staff. It just is an opportunity for us to welcome them here and help them prepare, and I think that’s what it’s all about. How can you help others and make sure that they’ve got everything they need to prepare for their season?

“If we were a little part of that, obviously we’ll be keeping an eye on them and hopefully they have a great season, and they can come back and go, ‘Hey, those scrimmages we had at Auburn helped us get ready for that,’” Larrondo laughed.

For now, Ruffin said, it’s good to have a good neighbor.

“And we’re both Tigers, man,” Ruffin laughed. “Tigers stick together. We’re in the jungle.”

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