-- Peyton Barber learned a few dance moves last season.
The scout team running back a year ago is in the mix for the starting job this spring, less than a year after taking a beating in practice as the Tigers' go-to runner on scout team.
"Those are situations that usually make or break a lot of guys," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "When they either get tough and fight through it or they go the other way."
Barber fought through it, but not before he picked up a few pointers and made the decision to start evading tacklers instead of absorbing every big hit. The freshman was so impressive, it was Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason who stood on a stage before the BCS National Championship and proclaimed Barber as the next player who would likely succeed him as the Tigers' running back -- not seniors Cameron Artis-Payne or Corey Grant.
"Me and Cam talk about it all the time," Mason said in January. "[Barber] is probably, skill wise, the best out of all of us. That guy is good. He's very consistent when he's scrimmaging. He's very consistent."
Barber will get his chance to prove he's worthy of the starting job during the last two weeks of the spring, though the summer could prove to be more important. Newcomer Roc Thomas, a five-star prospect out of Oxford, will arrive in the summer months with the starting job in his sights as well.
Barber could be the darkhorse in the race, however, with his 5-foot-11, 225-pound frame providing a small-but-rugged physique that could translate into a durable-but-explosive season if provided the opportunity.
He rushed for more than 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns at Milton (Alpharetta, Ga.) High in 2012, ranking among the top 50 running backs nationally, according to the major recruiting services.
"Peyton s a big kid," said left guard Alex Kozan. "Peyton s freaky."
Barber is sharing the load with Artis-Payne and Grant this spring, though the redshirt freshman is likely getting the bulk of the load as he tries to adjust to life as a potential star.
"Peyton was very, I'm not going to say a pleasant surprise, but we really got some great response from the scout team coaches and the defense, the way he showed toughness and durability and everything," Malzahn said. "That's a tough spot. A scout-team running back during season is not a popular thing to do for an average person."
Artis-Payne wants the competition to end with him on top as soon as possible, of course. Barber has yet to speak to the media, but continues to impress behind the closed doors of spring practices.
"Peyton is a talent," Artis-Payne said. "He s a real good talent. Him just getting that experience doing scout team and doing those types of things helped him out a lot. He s ready to open up some eyes this year."Thank you for subscribing. You should receive your first newsletter within 24 hours. To view and subscribe to any of our other newsletters, please .