Auburn is now halfway through its abbreviated 2020 season, and many might say it has been full of surprises from both its true and redshirt freshmen.
True freshman running back Tank Bigsby is one such player that has emerged as an immediate talent for the Tigers this season. The running back has rushed for over 100-yards in each of Tigers’ last three games.
Redshirt freshman Colby Wooden is another player that has emerged for the Tigers this year. The defensive lineman currently leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss this season.
While Bigsby and Woods have garnered their fair share of attention, not far behind is true freshman J.J. Pegues.
The 6-foot-2 300-pound tight end introduced himself to Auburn fans in Jordan-Hare Stadium in the Tigers’ season opener against Kentucky. Still, it wasn’t until Auburn’s matchup with Georgia when Pegues first showcased his unique skill set.
Against the Bulldogs, Auburn’s newest wildcat quarterback may have finished with a minuscule statline of two carries for four yards, but he had already begun making an impression on fans.
Since that game, Pegues’ popularity has grown on the Plains as he has continued to see snaps and have an impact.
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The following week at home against Arkansas, the tight end had his longest rush to date with an 11-yard run against the Razorbacks.
Last weekend in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, the true freshman laid down a punishing block in Auburn’s road contest with Ole Miss, a highlight that later went viral.
The tight end’s seemingly instant popularity came as a surprise to many. At least one expert saw his success coming — Chris Cutcliffe — Pegues’ high school coach.
Cutcliffe doesn’t just see Pegues as a top-tier talent with a unique skill set, but as a complete person who possesses the proper mindset to succeed at the collegiate level.
“I think the first thing that comes to mind is the humility,” Cutcliffe said in an interview with The Plainsman. “As a very highly recruited player and a guy who had a lot of success very early in his high school career, his humility, I think, was just an awesome trait and a rare trait in a teenager that has all that going on.”
During his time at Oxford High School, Pegues was more than just a vocal leader. Dating back to his freshman year, his demeanor was unwavering on the field and in the locker room.
“J.J. always had a smile on his face and always had a positive attitude every day,” Cutcliffe said. “Whatever was going on, he was very consistent. He was always the same every day.”
Cutcliffe connected his former player’s consistency to his ability to be coached and drive to progress, both on and off the field.
“I never saw J.J. grow complacent,” Cutcliffe said. “He was never satisfied with the success he was having. He wanted to improve. He wanted to be coached. He wanted to reach his potential. Knowing J.J., I know he’s still approaching every day that way.”
Because of his ability to not grow complacent, Pegues’ head coach is confident in the true freshman’s ability to achieve greatness during his time on the Plains.
“I knew that he had all the potential the first time I was on the field with him, which would have been when he was in eighth grade,” Cutcliffe said. “You knew that he had the potential to get there, and I guess I knew that he would make it and that he would be successful when I really got to see his work ethic.”
If there was ever any question regarding Pegues’ desire to put in the off-season work, Cutcliffe claims that all concerns were quickly laid to rest.
“I got to see just what he was going to do in the weight room in the off-season,” Cutcliffe said. “I knew that he was going to maximize his abilities and be successful at that level because of a lot of hard work.”
Cutcliffe seemed even less surprised in Pegues’ arising as a fan-favorite player.
“To be honest, it doesn’t surprise me,” Cutcliffe said. “We talked about that, that it wouldn’t take long, just because his skill set is so unique, he does things at his size that nobody else is doing.”
The head coach went on to add that despite his tight end’s impressive displays of talent thus far, the best has yet to come. He also added that there is yet another dimension to Pegues that Auburn has yet to see.
“What he brings to the table in the wildcat, the way he blocks to open up things for other players, I really think he’s just scratching the surface of what he’s capable of doing,” Cutcliffe said. “His special teams, I think that’s a big one too, that maybe gets overlooked sometimes. He was a great special teams player in high school.”
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