Etheridge prepares for big game at home

Published 10:55 am Sunday, December 26, 2010

It’s been a busy last couple of weeks for Zac Etheridge.

In about a two-week span, the 6-foot, 213 pound Etheridge helped the Auburn Tigers defeat their arch rival Alabama Crimson Tide and claimed its first SEC Championship title since 2004.

And while Etheridge now finds himself with his family in his hometown of Troy for Christmas, there is still a lot on his mind.

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With the win over South Carolina in the conference championship game, Auburn earned the right to the BCS National Championship berth in Glendale, Ariz. against Oregon.

And because of that, he continues to stay busy.

Even though the Tigers were dismissed from football activities earlier this week, Etheridge knows that if he wants to help his team win a title, there is no rest for the weary.

For the past couple of days he has been at his old stomping grounds at Charles Henderson High School working on his agility and ball defending techniques.

“I want to be as ready as I can be for the National Championship game,” he said.

“This is an opportunity that does not come by very often, so I am going to be as prepared as I can be for this. It’s a great feeling to have.”

While Etheridge said one of the main reasons he chose to go to Auburn four years ago was to play in big game against teams like Alabama, playing for a championships also was a major factor

And now, that part of the decision process is coming to fruition.

“Knowing that I was going to play for a team that would be able to play for championships was a huge part of it all – most definitely,” he said.

“It is kind of surreal that I am going to be playing for a championship in a couple of weeks. That’s going to be my last game. But everyone has played hard this season, everyone has worked together, and that’s why we are going to be playing for it all.”

While Etheridge’s time in his native Troy may be short, he is making the most out of it with a familiar face.

Helping him train is the same person that helped him for four years when he was wearing orange and blue for the Trojans – coach Sylvester Atkins.

“Zac has really been special to me,” the coach said.

“I always told my wife, whenever Zac calls, I’m going to be there for him. Zac wanted to get some work in during his break and we made it happen.”

This is not the first time the coach and the former Trojan have met at Troy, as Etheridge and Atkins have worked together during offseasons.

And so far, it has worked out for the Tiger secondary defender.

With Auburn, Etheridge has 259 career tackles, four forced fumbles, three career interceptions to go along with two touchdowns.

But even with all those tackles and experience gained throughout his time playing for Auburn, his toughest task may be his last as he faces an Oregon offense that is one of the best in the country.

The Ducks are currently first in the country in points scored with just a little bit below 50 and 48th in the country with 238 yards per game through the air.

“They are extremely fast paced,” Etheridge said.

“They keep a really quick tempo going on all game long and Oregon’s receivers are some of the best around. So there is going to be a lot on our plate, but it’s not anything that we can’t handle.”

In preparing for Oregon, Etheridge said that looking at his own team’s offense has helped along the way.

“We run a pretty quick offense too,” he said. “They may be a little faster than us, but there are a lot of similarities between the two. It’s going to be a fun game.”

But the only thing that Etheridge is concerned about right now is the present.

“I have got to keep working hard, nothing has come easy,” he said.

“The only thing I can do is prepare and stay focused on what I have to do, and that’s what I am doing.”