Transfer to Auburn good for Prosch
If Jay Prosch had stayed on his original course, his college football career would have ended last Saturday against Northwestern. He would have played out the string in a meaningless game in a mostly empty Memorial Stadium.
But life has a way of creating detours. In Prosch’s case, the change was one marked first by tragedy. And later, triumph.
Saturday in Atlanta, Prosch has a chance to end his career as an SEC champion. Auburn’s starting fullback leads his team in a winner-take-all game against Missouri.
“I’m having an amazing experience,” Prosch said. “It’s more than I could ask for, and I’m loving it.”
Just three years ago, Prosch was plowing the way for Mikel Leshoure’s 330-yard Wrigley Field day against Northwestern. That is one of Prosch’s two favorite memories as an Illini. The other was an upset win against Arizona State.
A reason to leave
There could have been more Illinois memories for Prosch, a two-year starter for Ron Zook’s team.
Then came the call. The kind nobody ever wants to take.
In the spring of 2011, Prosch found out his mother Iris had brain cancer. Zook told Prosch to go back home to Mobile, Ala., and be with his family.
While Iris went through treatments for her illness, Prosch stayed with the Illinois football team.
It was difficult on the player and his family. Mobile is 12 hours from C-U, and the long commutes meant Prosch couldn’t be home as often as he wanted.
After the 2011 season ended, Prosch looked for a solution. One that would give him more quality time with his mom.
Ultimately, Prosch decided to transfer from Illinois to Auburn. The long commute to see his mom in Mobile was cut to three hours.
“It made a world of difference for me and my family,” Prosch said. “I was able to take a three-hour drive and be with my mom on weekends.”
Illinois helped, pushing the NCAA to issue a waiver that would allow Prosch immediate eligibility. It was the right thing to do, Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said.
“He had a great experience here, but when you look at his family situation, I think you need to be sensitive to that,” Thomas said. “There were no hard feelings when we separated. Anyone who has been a part of our family, whether they were here for the full four or five years or not, you only wish the best for them.”
Looking back, Prosch appreciates Illinois’ efforts.
“It went as smooth as it could,” Prosch said.
Prosch went from one embattled coach to another. He left Illinois in the transition from Zook to Tim Beckman. He joined the Tigers for Gene Chizik’s final season.
On Sept. 3, 2012, Iris Prosch passed away at age 53.
“I think it was something that we were actually ready for because she was so sick,” Prosch said. “She was ready. She was obviously suffering. We were ready for her to not suffer anymore. Once it happened, it was still very hard.”
At the time of his mom’s death, Jay Prosch had just started his Auburn career.
Prosch misses her. Constantly. Having three sisters living nearby helps ease the pain. He also has two nephews.
“They are all doing very well,” Prosch said.
Life has continued for Prosch, and he has tried to make the most of it. Just like his mom would have insisted.
Prosch wants to take a shot at the NFL, where talented fullbacks are prized.
“Right now, I’m not really sure what my future holds,” Prosch said. “I’m living in the present and enjoying this.”
Though he has been at the school just two years, Prosch has earned endless praise from the Auburn staff. They admire his mental and physical strength. They admire his leadership and willingness to do whatever it takes.
“You can’t say enough about Jay Prosch,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “He’s as good of a fullback as there is anywhere in the country. He makes a lot of things go that maybe the average fan doesn’t see. I’ll tell you this: If we didn’t have Jay out there, a lot of people would notice a difference.”
The strongest man on the team has formed a special bond with the guy in charge of the Auburn weightroom.
“Jay’s work ethic is great, and he is a vicious competitor,” Auburn strength coach Ryan Russell said. “He is a low-ego, high-output guy who doesn’t care who gets the credit. He just wants to win.”
First-year head coach Gus Malzahn inherited Prosch from Chizik. Happily so.
Malzahn saw Prosch’s toughness in a game against Tennessee. Battered and bloodied by the Vols, Prosch didn’t seem to care.
“He looked like he was in the 12th round against Muhammad Ali,” Malzahn said. “It didn’t bother him a bit. He came out for one play, got cleaned up and went back in. He didn’t care.
“He had two black eyes the next day, and that was right down his alley. He even had a smile on his face.”
Prosch had an even bigger smile on his face during the closing seconds against Alabama. As teammate Chris Davis ran back a missed field goal for the winning touchdown, Prosch tried to get a view from the sideline.
Next: pandemonium. Like Prosch had never seen before.
“It was the craziest thing I’d ever seen and the craziest thing I had ever been a part of. Unreal,” Prosch said.
The celebration might still be going on if not for the demands of the SEC title game.
“People were partying all night,” Prosch said.
Prosch is a one-game-at-a-time-type guy. So you won’t get him to talk about a possible national title game for Auburn. Got to beat Missouri for that to remain a goal.
Going into the 2013 season, there wasn’t a lot of faith in the Auburn program. The team was 3-9 in 2012. But Prosch believed.
“I definitely felt that we were going to turn it around,” Prosch said. “When Coach Malzahn got here, the camaraderie my teammates started to build and the passion we were gaining, I knew something special was going to happen.
“But I didn’t know it was going to be this special.”
Malzahn is receiving a ton of credit. Rightfully so. But the players helped to make the turnaround real.
“We started working in the offseason and came together,” Prosch said. “That’s what brought us to where we are now.”
Prosch has played a part. Like at Illinois, he doesn’t touch the ball much. But he is a battering-ram blocker who helps keep Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall on his feet.
“This is the best year I’ve ever had,” Prosch said. “I really love the position I’m playing. I don’t get the ball much, but I never have. Nothing new.”
Prosch hasn’t been back to C-U since leaving for Auburn. He said he misses Illinois.
“I have a connection with that place,” Prosch said. “I have really good friends up there. That was a time in my life that I really enjoyed.”
He keeps in contact with former teammates Zach Becker, Spencer Harris and Evan Wilson. Someday, he will be back on campus.
He’s got more pressing matters now. Like a date with Missouri followed by a bowl game.