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Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown decided to come back for his senior season despite lofty NFL draft projections and having an infant son.

AUBURN

› Last season: 8-5 (3-5 SEC)

› 2019 opener: Aug. 31 vs. Oregon in Arlington, Texas (7:30 p.m. EDT; ABC)

› Fun fact: Auburn has had five 8-5 records in the past 10 seasons.

› Coming Wednesday: Florida

Auburn senior defensive tackle Derrick Brown has experienced the rigors of football conditioning and is a father to a 7-month-old son, so he can answer some of life's more unique comparison questions.

Such as, which is worse, running stadium steps or changing a diaper?

"Running stadiums, definitely," Brown said last week at SEC Media Days. "Changing diapers doesn't faze me, no matter what's underneath there."

The 6-foot-3, 318-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Sugar Hill surprised many across the college and professional landscape when he elected to return to Auburn for his senior year. His draft projections were stout, and being a new father seemed to make bolting for NFL paychecks the logical choice.

Brown, a top-10 national prospect in the 2016 signing class, didn't see it that way.

"It was definitely a stress on my shoulders at first, and I talked to my parents about it," Brown said, "but they had my back, and it was the same with my girlfriend and her family. I know that football will hopefully be my career, but I also wanted to get my degree in case football doesn't work out. Every little detail now becomes so much more important, because now I am a provider for someone else's livelihood. My son obviously can't take care of himself, and that's my job, so that's what I am going to do.

"I didn't see a reason why not to go back to school. I thought about it for a while, but I'm glad I decided what I decided."

Auburn's coaches, players and fans are quite pleased as well.

Brown collected 48 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season, when the Tigers opened with a 21-16 victory over No. 6 Washington in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game but finished a disappointing 8-5. Brown's son, Kai, was born several days before Auburn obliterated Purdue 63-14 in the Music City Bowl.

Quarterback Jarrett Stidham and receiver Darius Slayton used stellar showings at the Nashville bowl as a springboard to announce their NFL draft intentions several days later, but Brown's decision to return seemed to prevent any kind of mass exodus.

"When he chose to come back, it really started the rest of them to do the same," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.

Fellow defensive linemen Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe also considered leaving but didn't, and it was the same with left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho.

Malzahn said at media days that this could be the best defense he's seen in his 10 years with the Tigers, including his three as offensive coordinator (2009-11). The offense returns the running back tandem of Boobie Whitlow and Kam Martin, talented receiver Seth Williams and all five starters up front, with the big question being whether redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood or true freshman Bo Nix wins the quarterback job next month.

Auburn needs to have its starting quarterback in place by the Aug. 31 opener against Oregon at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which will mark the second straight year the Tigers are involved with the biggest game of Labor Day weekend.

"It is there for us," Brown said. "As a team, I think it is important for us to get off to a good start to the year. That sets the tone. Nobody wants to go out there and be 0-1."

Kai lives with his mother in Sugar Hill, and going home to "play Daddy" is Brown's favorite thing to do. Those bonding moments may be tougher to accommodate once the season starts, when Brown begins to justify his decision to stay.

That Brown even got to Auburn in the first place is a decision that surprised many as well.

"I made a lot of people unhappy," he said. "My parents went to Mississippi State, so people wanted me to go to Mississippi State and continue the legacy. Being from Georgia, people said I should have gone to Georgia, but at the end of the day, it was my decision.

"I can't care about what other people think, so it is what it is."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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