Auburn football has had a strong connection to the Atlanta area for a long time, and the Tigers are returning to Atlanta to play Louisville in the Georgia Dome in their opening game of the 2015 season.
Quarterback Jeremy Johnson was a member of the team when Auburn played in the 2013 SEC Championship Game in the Georgia Dome, but he is looking forward to playing there for the first time as a starter.
“I’m going to love it,” Johnson said. “I know the majority is going to be our fans so I feel really comfortable. We’re just ready to play.”
Saturday’s game against Louisville will mark the fifth time in six years that Auburn has played in the Dome, the most of any venue except Jordan-Hare Stadium in that time frame.
Coach Gus Malzahn said the fan support in the Georgia Dome makes it a popular place to play for everyone in the program.
“[We’re] excited to be playing in Atlanta, in the (Georgia) Dome,” Malzahn said. “Our players, our coaches and I know our fans enjoy playing there.”
A staggering 32 players, or 28 percent, of Auburn’s current roster hail from the Atlanta metropolitan area, including 14 players on the two-deep depth chart. Some of those players played in the Georgia Dome for various events in high school, while others have played there already during their time at Auburn.
Sophomore defensive end Carl Lawson, a native of Alpharetta, Georgia, remembers playing in the Georgia Dome in the SEC title game, which Auburn won 59-42 over Missouri. Lawson, who missed the 2014 season with a torn ACL, is eager to get back on the field near his hometown.
“The Georgia Dome is really nice, and the turf is really, really fast,” Lawson said. “I remember playing the SEC Championship there and I felt real light on my feet. I like it there.”
Lawson also recalls Auburn’s game versus Clemson in the Georgia Dome in 2012, saying that the contest helped solidify his decision to come to the Plains to play college football.
“That was one of the best [games] I’ve been to,” Lawson said. “It was really fun.”
Senior defensive end DaVonte Lambert has played in the Georgia Dome, as he led Burke County to the 3-A state title in 2011.
Lambert said there is only one thing on his mind in his second trip to the stadium.
“I’m looking forward to winning, because last time I played there, we won,” Lambert said. “I was in high school championship game and we won, so I’m looking forward to winning.”
Justin Garrett, a starting linebacker for the Tigers, has also played in the Georgia Dome. The senior helped lead Tucker High School to the Georgia High School Association 4-A state title in 2008.
Garrett, who is from Stone Mountain, Georgia, said it playing in front of a sold-out crowd in the Georgia Dome will be a dream come true.
“I try to take every game the same, come with the same mentality, no matter if it’s a big game or a small game,” Garrett said. “It’s just going to mean a lot to go back home … It’s going to be a great feeling to play in the Georgia Dome. Growing up as a kid, the dream was to play in the Georgia Dome.”