AUBURN —Wil Appleton is certainly familiar with all that it means to be an Auburn Tiger. Appleton’s father, Hank, played defensive back for Auburn football in the early 1980s.
“I grew up coming here and grew up being an Auburn fan,” Appleton said. “Just being around Auburn for so long, you really can feel the family environment. It was an easy decision for me.”
Appleton’s transition from Albertville High School to playing football at Auburn where 87,000 fans pack Jordan-Hare Stadium every home Saturday in the fall was eye-opening. It took some time for him to adjust.
“I was kind of nervous coming in from high school,” Appleton said. “When I got here, everyone was from all across the Southeast and across the country. It’s been a good experience getting to know people from different backgrounds. The coaches have been there to help me along the way.”
The bigger adjustment was learning to become a student-athlete and having to balance school, football and still try to have a social life. However, Appleton believes the dedication and work ethic Auburn has instilled in him will prepare him for success after graduation.
“It’s just really shown me what hard work is,” said Appleton, an interdisciplinary studies major. “A lot of people don’t understand; they think athletes have it easy. But there’s a lot of work on and off the field. And once you get here and you have 5:45 a.m. workouts in the summer, you learn what kind of commitment and effort the team is putting in to make everyone proud of the results.”
Now, as someone who has navigated through those early-morning summer workouts and who has balanced everything in his life, the senior can pass along the lessons he’s learned along the way to the newcomers.
“Coming in, just keep your head down and work,” Appleton said. “Nothing is going to be given to you. Sometimes it gets hard – you feel like you are working but you aren’t getting noticed.
“That’s one thing that I struggled with being a walk-on. I tried to do everything the right way, but it seemed like some days no one was noticing it. But they are noticing, and you are building skills for your life.
“You have to take victories in the small things, especially being a walk-on. It’s not like I was a highly recruited player. I had the opportunity to come here to a school I love. So once I started looking at the victories in the small things, it became easier.”
His first season with the team was 2017, and the Tigers won the SEC West, closing out the regular season with wins over Georgia and Alabama at home. However, last year the Tigers failed to reach some of the goals they had set for themselves.
This year’s team is different, though, and Appleton believes those experiences, the good and bad, will help them going into this season.
“We’ve always been close,” he said. “We’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs, from winning the SEC West in 2017 to going 7-5 in the regular season last year. We’ve learned from that and grown, and I feel like we are a lot closer.
“We want to be the best we can be. We are going to work as hard as we can to be No. 1 in every aspect of the SEC.
“Our main goal is to win the SEC, and if we achieve that, we have everything right in front of us. Individually, I want to do just whatever I can to contribute. Whatever role I have to play, I want to do it to the best of my ability.”