In the Spring of 2007 a 6’5″ 298 lb offensive lineman and part time tight end from Williamson High School in Mobile committed to play football for Auburn University. However, he was detoured to Mississippi’s Copiah-Lincoln Community College to prepare academically. After a redshirt year at Copiah-Lincoln he was moved to defense.
Today he is an important cog in Auburn’s 11-0 season. No one knew in 2009 that this former offensive lineman would be the dominant defensive player he has become for the number two Tigers. No one that is, except a former Auburn Defensive Coordinator who had been hired as Auburn’s new head coach. Gene Chizik made Nick Fairley his first signee in his very first recruiting class at Auburn.
Now two years later Nick Fairley is one of college football’s 2010 breakout players. Any one who watches him play knows he is a driven man. But what many do not know, is that his motivation comes from family.
Family has always been important to Nick. He grew up as one of nine siblings in the Alabama seaport of Mobile. Even today with his busy college and playing schedule he likes to spend time with family, especially with his sisters and nieces, and his mother Paula.
Yet not all of Nick’s childhood memories are happy ones. Nick has had to deal with a lot of deaths in his family. One that really impacted him was the passing of his grandfather when he was 14 years old. “My granddad’s dream was to watch somebody in his family play on TV. He wasn’t able to do it. That drives me, too.”
Fairley’s drive has helped him become both a feared and a respected adversary for opposing offensives. It is a drive that has garnered him several SEC Player of the Week Awards. Additionally in the past week he has been named as one of the finalist for the 2010 Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award, both of which honors the National Defensive Player of the Year. Nick is also a finalist for theLombardi Award which recogonizes the nation’s best interior lineman.
Most that have watched him play say that he is the best defensive player since Auburn’s 1988 Lombardi and Outland winner Tracy Rocker. Coach Rocker had 13 tackles for a loss the year he won the Lombardi. Nick now leads the SEC with 18 tackles for a loss and is second in sacks with seven and a half.
Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt who played at the University of Miami compared him to the great Warren Sapp, ” Nick is the closest thing I’ve seen to Warren Sapp in all the years I’ve been coaching. He’s that big of a load, and you have to have some plan for the guy.”
Ole Miss Head Coach Houston Nuttt said, “He’s at the top in my book because he’s so athletic. There’s been a lot of great linemen who can fill up gaps and let your linebacker make the play. But this guy is different. He can give you a head-shoulder fake, he is nimble, quick, and always disruptive in every ball game.”
LSU Quarterback Jordan Jefferson certainly agreed with that assessment. He said after their game with Auburn that Fairley was, “Very disruptive” and “We thought he played a great game.”
There have been many comparisons to Auburn’s great Hall of Famer Tracy Rocker. Kentucky Head Coach Joker Phillips said “I’ve been in this league a long time, and he looks a lot like some of the old Auburn defensive players, similar to (Rocker). He’s playing with a big-time motor and with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement.”
Rocker who is now Nick’s position coach said those comparisons are not accurate because as he put it, ”Nick’s a hell of a lot better.” That statement says tons about the man who many feel should be the 2010 National Defensive Player of the Year.
Now this Friday the defensive tackle that may be better than Tracy Rocker will be playing on the biggest stage and in the biggest televised game in the state of Alabama, the 2010 Iron Bowl. Once again Nick will be driven by the image of his granddad leaning over the palisades of heaven and watching his grandson play.
And at 1:30pm CST Friday, Alabama will be the next opponent to have to face … this driven man.