Baseball might've been his strongest suit.
Coming out of high school as a 4-star quarterback, Robby Ashford made the journey to Eugene, Oregon, and his action in the outfield grass was the only playing time he got.
He played in 20 games as a member of the Ducks' baseball team, but his 2021 football season was redshirted while he saw no playing time in the shortened 2020 season. Although 2020 had no effect on his eligibility, it meant when he entered the transfer portal in December of 2021, he'd go to a new home without having played a down of football since 2019, when he was an Under-Armor All-American quarterback at Hoover High School in Alabama.
Yes, Ashford had a brother-in-law who played for the University of Alabama. In fact, the majority of his family bled crimson and white. None of that mattered to Ashford. Auburn was always his first choice.
"Auburn just always felt different to me; it always felt special," Ashford said. "When I was younger– for one, I loved to be different. I think that was one of the biggest things: I didn't want to be like my whole family. I was probably like 4, and I was like, 'Oh, I like Auburn.' I had my Auburn jersey. I had my Bo Jackson jersey. I remember my granny bought me one for Christmas, like a whole little set with the helmet and everything... When I entered the portal, I was like 'I gotta come to Auburn.'"
After attending visits to both Auburn and Alabama, he transferred to Auburn on January 18, 2022, and announced his decision to step away from baseball to focus on football.
Right away, many questioned whether he would even play. After all, he hadn't played live football in almost three years, and he was accompanied by two more seasoned SEC QBs: former Texas A&M starting QB Zach Calzada and LSU transfer and last year's starter for Auburn in its final five games, T.J. Finley.
Finley started the season as Auburn's primary QB, but Ashford got in there for some plays and hinted at his explosive playmaking. Ashford threw 10 passes for 101 yards through two weeks, but he saw a bigger role against Penn State, particularly in the second half after Finley threw an interception for the third straight week. He threw the same number of passes as Finley (19) and his pass to Jarquez Hunter accounted for Auburn's only touchdown of the game.
However, what truly set Ashford apart from his competition was his athleticism. His legs torched Mercer for 68 yards, San José State for 61 yards and Penn State for 29 more. In those games, his longest runs were 49, 30 and 28 yards.
He got his first opportunity to start when Finley went down with an injury in week four versus Missouri, and he never looked back. Finley is now off the depth chart, and Calzada has yet to be seen after undergoing shoulder surgery in October.
Instead, his only challenger has been true freshman Holden Geriner, who threw three passes versus Missouri and hasn't made another game appearance. It became evident quickly that Ashford brought more to the table than any other QB on the roster because of his legs adding another element for defenses to prepare for.
His role has drastically changed of late because of a run-heavy offense (55 passes to 143 runs in three games) under Williams, but he continues to do whatever the offense needs more him to do to win. Ashford said the only stat he cares about is a "W," and despite throwing for just 60 and 102 yards in the past two games, Auburn went 2-0. He celebrated with the student section accordingly.
Despite his stat line declining over the past two games, Ashford continues to improve his ball security, and he is staying ready for when his arm is needed. He's shown his arm talent all year, throwing for 1,536 yards and six TDs with a long of 62 yards. He has also proven to be tough to wrap up, with 770 rushing yards for five scores on 136 carries. 192 of those came in the past three games under Williams.
"I think he's asked (to do) a lot. There's very few people in this country that are as athletic as he is, and he's going to be a good player," said co-offensive coordinator Will Friend. "What Robby has done well, in my opinion, is he's kind of embraced what we try to do to give us a chance to be successful each week."
Though he has struggled with turnovers at times this season with seven interceptions and eight fumbles, his coaches haven't lost an ounce of confidence in their QB. After rotating QBs in the first four games of the season, he is Auburn's rock. And he is getting more reliable by the week. He didn't turn the ball over any against Western Kentucky and only twice in the past three games, both INTs on a windy day versus the Aggies' top-ranked pass defense in the SEC.
Through the struggles and the losses, Auburn's staff couldn't be happier to have a 20-year-old QB with room to grow and develop. For Ashford, it's simply a matter of trial and error and learning as he goes.
“Robby, as a quarterback, he's evolving and growing," Williams said. "He's doing a lot better job of running the show and getting us in the right checks. And look, like I've told people, the kid has not played ball in probably two or three years. This is his sixth or seventh game that he has played big-time football and he's still a young kid. He's still learning, but man the kid is a fighter. He's a competitor. He has a ton of energy. I will fight with Robby on the field any day of the week."
Now, Ashford has the opportunity to grab bragging rights within his family by leading the Tigers to an upset over No. 7 Alabama on Saturday in his first year at Auburn. One year ago, he was sitting on Oregon's bench dressed in green and yellow, 2,618 miles from the Plains.
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Noah is a senior in journalism from Salem, Alabama. He joined the Plainsman in August of 2021 after transferring in from Southern Union Community College.