HOOVER, Ala. — C.J. Uzomah’s mother has a heavy right foot and some well-timed forethought.
Stephanie Uzomah drove 170 miles Sunday in just over two hours to deliver her son a suit — which she randomly had bought two weeks ago — for his impromptu trip to Southeastern Conference media days.
“Mom, hope you didn’t speed,” C.J. said he told her upon arrival.
The Auburn tight end’s journey to the SEC’s unofficial kickoff of football season is unusual and bizarre, but it’s who he replaced as one of Auburn’s three player representatives that’s the bigger story.
The conference’s top returning star, quarterback Nick Marshall, was pulled at the last minute from his scheduled trip to media days, a four-day event that began Monday from the Hyatt Regency in this Birmingham suburb.
The move comes a few days after Marshall was cited in Georgia for possessing a small amount of marijuana.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, while refusing to reveal specifics on the punishment, said Marshall will have to “deal with the consequences” of his “mistake.” One of them was missing media days, where more than 1,000 reporters gather each year.
“It is a privilege and reward to represent Auburn here at SEC media day,” Malzahn said. “Last Friday, Nick lost that privilege.”
Uzomah, a little-known player who caught all of 11 passes last season, replaced him. He was notified Sunday, a day before Auburn’s appearance at media days.
“Coach Malzahn called me and he was like, ‘How do you feel like coming to media day?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to,’ ” Uzomah said. “He said, ‘Good, do you have a suit?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I need to call my mom right now so I can get it.’ ”
Uzomah and Auburn’s other two player representatives Monday rallied around Marshall, a guy who burst on the scene last season as a junior-college transfer throwing for nearly 2,000 yards and running for more than 1,000.
He was one of the heroes in Auburn’s fairy-tale story of 2013: Led by a new coach and new quarterback, the Tigers, winless in the SEC the previous year, won the league championship and played for the national title. LSU was the only team in the 2013 regular season to topple Auburn and slow the speedy Marshall.
Marshall’s citation is only a misdemeanor, and he can avoid a court appearance by paying the $1,000 fine. His standing with the team, though, is unclear. He addressed the team over the weekend, players said.
“This will probably end up being a positive in his life and helping him out,” center Reese Dismukes said.
Marshall’s incident, though, sent waves through the squad. He’s known among the group as a do-good guy who stays out of trouble.
“That sucks,” Dismukes said of his reaction when hearing the news. “Dang. I mean … I don’t know what else you think. Someone that you love and is your brother, something happens like that.”
Auburn lost Heisman finalist Tre Mason and first-round pick Greg Robinson. So Marshall’s role this season looms large.
He’s a key piece to a team trying to accomplish something that no one has done since Tennessee in 1998: win the SEC in back-to-back seasons.
The path to Atlanta for the league title game begins early: Auburn opens the season at home against Arkansas on Aug. 30. Will the Tigers have Marshall?
“I’m not at that point yet,” Malzahn said when asked.
One thing’s for sure: Marshall has the support of his team.
“I saw him going into the dorm as I was driving by, and I told him I loved him,” defensive lineman Gabe Wright said. “That’s all I said. I grabbed him in the team meeting. This is something where I know him personally. I know it’s a bad decision, and I know he’s truly remorseful. I could tell from the look in his eyes, and I could tell from the words coming out of his mouth.”