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Auburn football leader dedicates career to slain minister & friend

AUBURN, Ala. (BP)–In the locker room before an Auburn University football game, pre-game rituals run amok. There are ankles and wrists being taped, equipment firmly fastened, perhaps even heads banging into lockers.
But at locker No. 31 belonging to sophomore free safety Rob Pate, there is another, much more emotion-laden activity taking place. Before every contest, Pate inscribes the initials B.T. on his wristbands.
“I’ve dedicated my football career to him,” said Pate of Brian Tribble, the late music minister of his home church, Centercrest Baptist in Birmingham, Ala., who was killed Oct. 3, 1997, at age 36.
Tribble, a close friend of the Pate family, wrote letters to Pate every week before Tribble’s life tragically ended.
He had arrived early at the church that morning to depart for the national Promise Keepers Stand in the Gap rally in Washington, D.C. His body was discovered by a friend, and police ruled that he had been shot at close range by an intruder, who has since been apprehended.
Tribble led the choir, directed music programs and concocted clever children’s sermons at the church where at the age of 6, Pate walked down the aisle, along with his older brother, David, to give his life to Christ. Tribble also called the play-by-play for Pate’s high school, E.B. Erwin, in Birmingham. Pate said he plays every game with memories of Brian ­- who did get to see Pate compete in one college game.
While for some that would mean added pressure, Pate just feels fortunate to be wearing the orange and blue.
“I know everybody doesn’t have this opportunity,” Pate said. “I’m just trying to use what God’s given me.”
These are humble words from a young man so akin to success. A four-year starter in football, basketball and baseball in high school, Pate is a throwback, a rare all-around athlete who doesn’t just pick up a new sport, he excels at it. Just ask the high school defenses around the state about the running back who bruised them for 445 yards and eight touchdowns his senior year. And if that weren’t enough to prove his athletic prowess, he also caught 33 passes for 455 yards and six touchdowns.
Consequently, Pate came to Auburn in August 1997 and immediately made an impact upon the Tiger coaching staff. An outspoken leader both on and off the field, Pate ended up starting eight of 13 games as a true freshman, a feat almost unheard of in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference.
But to Pate, being able to call himself a child of God takes precedence over any achievements he may make on the gridiron.
“Sure, if I could, I’d like to play pro football someday,” said Pate, adding that his greatest concern is living his life as a man of God. “That’s what I consider success, being a committed, disciplined Christian.”
Whether kneeling in prayer after a grueling matchup, or sharing with churches his message that all Christians are called to leadership, Pate acknowledged he has been given his gift of athletic talent for a higher purpose.
“Everybody has special abilities,” Pate said. “And we’re all responsible for how we use them.”
Making the most of his blessings, Pate played a major role in leading the Tiger defense to national fame as one of the toughest in the country. He ended the season with 48 total tackles -­ including six against Florida, five against Arkansas, four against Georgia and two against Alabama ­- and eight passes broken up on his way to being named to the Knoxville News-Sentinel All-SEC Freshman Team.
Besides being surrounded by such athletically gifted peers at Auburn, Pate is thankful for the cloud of Christian witnesses God has placed around him. “Sometimes I’ll come in and see my roommate Whit [Smith, linebacker from Cordele, Ga.] reading his Bible, and it reminds me that I need to read mine.”
Pate has no doubts Auburn is where he belongs. After an early season practice his freshman year, Pate immediately recognized a strong Christian presence among his teammates.
“Some guys on the team, right after they stepped off the field, they started praying,” Pate said. “I knew this was where I should be.”
Pate pointed out God’s faithfulness in providing him a brotherhood of believers to help cope with life’s struggles.
“Every time I feel I’m at a low point, a teammate will come along to pick me up,” Pate said.
Along with his new football family, Pate will be joined in 1999 by his younger brother, Phillip, a blue-chip quarterback/defensive back at Erwin who has committed to the Tigers.
Lifting the spirits of Auburn fans is a top priority on Pate’s agenda for the 1998 football season, and judging from his performance last year, No. 31 should be making good things happen for the Tigers.
But don’t expect Pate to command attention after a big play by removing his helmet or busting into a celebratory shuffle.
He’ll just look down at his wristband and smile.

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  • Jason Skinner