A different breed: Peach State LB trio fortifies Auburn defense

AUBURN, Ala. – Players don’t circle games on the schedule. The next game is always the most important game. But for Owen Pappoe, Zakoby McClain and Chandler Wooten, they would be lying if they said they weren’t looking forward to the opportunity to play Georgia on Saturday. 

“It means a lot,” McClain said. “I don’t like those Bulldogs. I don’t like that red.”

McClain, Pappoe and Wooten all grew up in the state of Georgia. McClain wanted to play for the Bulldogs but says they didn’t want him. Pappoe was down to Auburn and Georgia and chose Auburn because of the “family atmosphere.” Wooten never liked Georgia growing up despite being from a town where that’s all you heard about. He, too, signed with Auburn.

“It’s definitely something we take personal,” Wooten said. “We’ve got a lot of players from Georgia on this team. There are a lot of people who take it personal. That’s just how we have to approach the game, personally, because it is personal. If everybody has that mindset and prepares the right way, we’ll give ourselves a good chance to win.”

Saturday’s game in Jordan-Hare Stadium could very well be the last chance Wooten and McClain have to beat Georgia. Both are seniors. Even Pappoe, a junior, might not get another opportunity depending on if he decides to leave early for the NFL.

So who are these Peach State linebackers and how did they end up at Auburn together? 

Owen Pappoe, Football: Auburn vs Alabama State

Owen Pappoe: The Freak

Pappoe didn’t start playing football until he was 14. That’s when he earned his nickname, “The Freak.” His coaches put him at defensive end and told him to either tackle the quarterback or make a play on the running back if he got the ball. He did it every time.

As a linebacker now, Pappoe is still making plays for Auburn. Last year, he finished eighth in the SEC with 93 tackles. He also had six tackles for loss and four sacks.

“Truly, I just have fun playing the game,” Pappoe said. “I started kind of late, but ever since then I fell in love with it. I just truly enjoy what I’m doing.”

“Owen brings me that energy and that competition because I know at the end of the day, he’s going to always compete with me,” McClain said. “If I feel like he’s competing with me, it makes me want to go harder. He’s a freak. He’s big. He does things that you never think a linebacker could do. He’s just a monster out there. And he’s a very good leader.”

Prior to this season, Pappoe was named one of the team captains along with Wooten.

“I think what makes him different is he’s a physical freak, but just the way he prepares himself,” Wooten said. “He’s just so smart. There’s really nothing he’s not going to understand with the game plan. When he’s out there, you feel comfortable because you know he’s going to get the job done. It’s something I admire about him, and I try to feed off that as well.”

Zakoby McClain, Football: Auburn vs Georgia State

Zakoby McClain: Ricochet Rabbit

Off the field, McClain is always smiling. He describes himself as funny, goofy and just someone who wants to see other people smile. But on the field, he’s a different animal.

“When I cross the lines, it’s like another me comes out,” McClain said. “I become a monster. All my instincts take over. It feels like superpowers like in movies.”

“Zakoby is just a different type of player,” Pappoe said. “It’s really exciting to watch him play football. Every time he makes plays, it just sparks something in you. ‘OK, now let me make this next play.’ He brings the best out of everybody around him. Huge Energizer Bunny on the field. It’s funny say I say energizer bunny because we call him the Ricochet Rabbit.”

Last year, the “Ricochet Rabbit” led the nation with 113 tackles. Since 2009, only two other Auburn players have finished a season with more tackles. This year, he already has 35 tackles through the first five games, despite missing three-plus quarters because of a targeting penalty in the second half against Penn State.

To know just how important McClain is to this Auburn defense, look back at the Georgia State game where his return in the second half changed the complexion of the game.

“As soon as he came back into the game, everything instantly changed,” Wooten said. “He’s a game-changer. Big hits. When he celebrates after a play, that energy is contagious. Just having a playmaker like that out there, someone you know is going to do their job at all times, it just makes you feel comfortable.”

Chandler Wooten, Football: Auburn vs Akron

Chandler Wooten: The General

Wooten was supposed to finish his Auburn career last year. Instead, he opted to sit out because of COVID-19, and after spending a year away from football, he’s back this year and hasn’t missed a beat. He’s tied with McClain for the team lead in tackles (35).

“He brings a lot of energy to the defense, a lot of leadership out there,” Pappoe said. “We call him ‘The General’ sometimes. He knows how to get everybody lined up. Really smart player, and he makes the plays that need to be made.”

Knowing it’s his final season at Auburn, Wooten is trying to enjoy every moment and soak it all up. He says it’s the most fun he’s ever had playing football. There’s also a new motivation for the senior linebacker – his son, Chance, who turns 11 months Friday.

Born last November, Chance has given Wooten a new outlook on life.

“Before on those hard days, you come in and it’s like, ‘I’m going to try to get through it.’ Now it’s like there is no hard day,” Wooten said. “Every day I look at him before I leave the house and when I come home, and it makes it all worth it. I know exactly what I’m working toward and who I’m working for. There’s a lot more clarity in everything I do.”

“I missed Chandler last year, but he had reasons to do what he had to do,” McClain said. “I think him having his child, it’s made him go even harder. He’s even more locked in, prepared and wants to help the team win games.”

FB: Georgia Gameday Program, 2021
Auburn University, Football Tags: