AUBURN, Ala. -- Gabe Wright was supposed to be a part of Georgia’ “Dream Team” recruiting class in 2011.
He hails from Columbus, Ga. He was teammates with Isaiah Crowell, a five-star running back who signed with the Bulldogs. As a sophomore, Wright thought he wanted to stay in state and play for Georgia.
“There was pretty much no doubt then that I wanted to be a Bulldog,” he said.
But all that changed when Todd Grantham replaced Willie Martinez as Georgia’s defensive coordinator. The Bulldogs transitioned from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense, and among other things, Wright didn’t feel like he was a fit with the in-state school anymore.
So on signing day, when Crowell held up a bulldog puppy to announce his intentions to sign with Georgia, Wright put on an Auburn hat and signed with the Tigers.
Mark Richt and his staff inked 19 recruits from the Peach State in that 2011 class, but they let Wright, the state’s No. 4 prospect, slip away.
At first, the decision looked like it could be the wrong one. Wright watched as Georgia went 12-2 last season, narrowly missing a chance to play for the BCS national championship. Meanwhile, Auburn finished 3-9 and failed to win an SEC game. When the two teams met, Georgia shut out the Tigers to the tune of 38-0 last November.
“Before this season, I remember telling the [players] it was hard to go home and wear some of our 'AU' gear because we were 3-9,” Wright said. “It's not so much that people look at the Georgia game. It was just as a whole.”
But Wright never doubted his decision. He never wavered.
Now, Auburn is 9-1, ranked No. 7 in the BCS, and it controls its own destiny in the SEC West. It’s been the biggest turnaround in college football, and Wright can proudly wear his Auburn gear when he goes back home now.
But the Tigers face an old nemesis on Saturday in Georgia, a team that has beat them in eight of the past 11 games.
“It's the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry,” Wright said. “From a personal standpoint, I've yet to beat Georgia. There are a lot of guys that have yet to beat Georgia, all except that senior class.”
In all, Auburn has 26 players from the state of Georgia on its roster. It’s a big game from the standpoint of where the Tigers are and what they can still accomplish, but it’s also a big game on a personal level for a number of players.
“Growing up, all I hear is Georgia so I’m definitely amped up about this game for sure,” said tight end C.J. Uzomah, a native of Suwanee, Ga.
Cornerback Jonathon Mincy grew up in Atlanta as a Georgia fan, but he wasn’t even recruited by the Bulldogs.
"For everybody from Georgia, this is a personal game,” Mincy said. “Just us being there, being [from] in state and for the folks that weren't able to be recruited. It's going to be a fun game, and I'm excited to go out there and play."
But ultimately, it’s just another game on the schedule. Auburn has taken the one-game-at-a-time approach, and this week is no different. It doesn’t matter that it’s a rivalry game. It doesn’t matter that there will be plenty of familiar faces on the opposite sideline. It’s just another game.
“All that aside, it's another week,” Wright said. “Guys have showed that we've been able to persevere, push through. There ain't no stopping now.”