Malzahn, Sullen spread cheer at Chilton Auburn Club banquet

Published 6:49 pm Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Auburn University head football Coach Gus Malzahn signs fans' memorabilia before speaking to guests at Chilton Auburn Club's 47th annual Unsung Hero Banquet on Tuesday night.

Auburn University head football Coach Gus Malzahn signs fans’ memorabilia before speaking to guests at Chilton Auburn Club’s 47th annual Unsung Hero Banquet on Tuesday night.

Chilton Auburn Club member Brian Paschal needed only two words to introduce the guest speaker at the club’s 47th annual Unsung Hero Banquet on Tuesday night: “He’s back.”

The applause following the introduction told the rest of the story.

Paschal was referring to Coach Gus Malzahn, who accepted the position as Auburn University’s head football coach in 2012 after his one-year stint as head coach at Arkansas State.

But Auburn fans know Malzahn best from the three years he spent serving as offensive coordinator alongside former head Coach Gene Chizik and specifically his role in the 2010 season that saw the Tigers win the national championship.

“First of all, I feel very blessed to be back as head coach,” Malzahn said. “I’m one fired-up guy to be back at Auburn. There are going to be some exciting times ahead.”

Malzahn credited his “outstanding staff” for helping him build the team and prepare for the 2013 season, and he praised the senior members for serving as positive role models for the freshmen players.

“We do have a strong senior class,” he said. “They’ve shown great leadership so far.”

Regarding this year’s record-breaking attendance of more than 83,000 at the A-Day game, Malzahn said the packed stadium and fans’ continued support meant much to everyone on the football field.

“That’s a big deal to our players and our coaches,” Malzahn said. “That was very special. We’re looking forward to the future, and the future is bright. There are going to be some exciting times ahead.”

Jemison Mayor Eddie Reed thanked Malzahn for visiting and presented him with a Key to the City plaque.

“I’ve been in Jemison all my life, and we’ve had distinguished guests, but this is the distinguished guest,” Reed said of Malzahn. “I don’t know what door it opens, but we are blessed to have you in our city.”

The club honored former Auburn offensive lineman John Sullen as the 2013 recipient of its Unsung Hero Award.

Sullen played football at Auburn High School and was recruited by Malzahn to join the AU team in 2009.

“Coming out of high school, I wasn’t highly recruited,” Sullen said. “I wasn’t your Cam Newtons or your Michael Dyers. I was just John Sullen.”

While describing a phone conversation he had with Malzahn during recruitment, Sullen said, “My first thought was, ‘Well, it is right down the street.’”

Donning the No. 71 jersey, Sullen appeared in all 13 games in ’09 with one start and 13 games in 2010.

He was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll in 2011 and ranked 35th nationally among offensive guards.

Sullen thanked Malzahn and the Auburn Family for their support during his career at Auburn, as well as the club for selecting him for this year’s award.

“I really have to say that the unsung heroes are my parents,” Sullen said, asking them to stand. “They helped me become the person I am today. I love them to death.”

Past local recipients of the Unsung Hero Award who were present at the banquet were: John McAfee, 1966; Mary Clyde Huff, 1969; Carl McDowell, 1974; Jim Pitts, 1976; and Mark Clement, 1980.

Club secretary Glenda Mims presented the club’s John McAfee Award to club member Herb Salter, a 1943 Auburn graduate and “founding father” and former president of Chilton’s club.

“He’s a man that, to me, personifies the Auburn Spirit and Auburn Creed,” Mims said.

Guests also enjoyed viewing raptors, including one of Auburn’s golden eagles, from the Southeastern Raptor Center at Auburn University.

Organizers estimated that more than 350 people attended the banquet.

“It’s the largest crowd we’ve ever had,” Mims said. “We’re excited about it and thrilled with the response.”

All proceeds from ticket sales and the event’s silent auction fund the club’s annual scholarships awarded to two local high school seniors. Each scholarship is the equivalent of a semester’s tuition at Auburn.

Mims said the club now has an endowed scholarship ($1,000–$1,200) that is currently generating funds and will be available in 2014.