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Auburn’s Jeffrey M’ba has ‘unique’ personality, skillset to match

AL.com logo AL.com 8/8/2022 Tom Green, al.com

One of Auburn’s newest, and biggest, players stood at the front of the team’s meeting room Thursday on the eve of fall camp and tried to crack some jokes. Jeffrey M’ba’s attempt to loosen things up on the day players reported to campus fell flat.

It wasn’t because the jokes weren’t funny; it was that his teammates had trouble deciphering them through M’ba’s French accent.

“Jeffrey is funny, and he doesn’t’ even try to be,” defensive lineman Colby Wooden said. “That’s the funny part about it…. We were like, ‘what did he say?’”

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Some things have gotten lost in translation between M’ba and his teammates, but two things have been apparent since the 6-foot-6, 313-pound junior college transfer stepped foot on campus in January: He has an infectious personality and a skillset to match it on the field.

“Jeffrey’s unique,” edge defender Derick Hall said. “He lights up a room.”

A native of Gabon who moved to France when he was 4, M’ba has only been playing football for four years after growing up playing soccer. After dipping his toes into the sport in France, and quickly realizing his potential, M’ba moved stateside to pursue an opportunity on the gridiron. That ultimately led him to Independence Community College in Kansas, where he spent two seasons and emerged as the nation’s No. 1 JUCO player in the 2022 class.

He signed with Auburn and arrived in the spring, but he did not participate in spring practices while recovering from a shoulder injury he sustained last season at Independence. Now he’s fully recovered and participating in fall camp, and his presence has been unmistakable on the field—and not just because he rocks a dark visor on his helmet (and a blue streak through his hair under it) and the same No. 5 once sported by all-time Auburn great Derrick Brown.

“Jeffrey looks good,” Hall said. “He’s raw, he’s young — in the aspect of football age, let me say that. He’s fairly new to this game. He’s willing to work. One thing about Jeffrey — his attitude, his approach to the game. He studies, he loves us, he loves Auburn. Just having that attitude, you’re going to come out here every day and obviously get better.

“He’s taking that next step every day. The physical features are there, obviously, so we’re happy to have him. He’s helping us out.”

Early on this fall, M’ba has seen work with the second-team defensive line during the periods of practice that have been open to the media. He has lined up alongside Marquis Burks, Zykeivous Walker and edge MArcus Bragg along the line, and he has rotated in with some first-team guys like Jayson Jones during team drills.

It has only been a couple of practices, and of course the media has only been provided with brief glimpses early in those practices, but M’ba’s athleticism and fluidness on the field has been evident. There’s a reason why he was regarded as the nation’s No. 1 JUCO prospect, after all.

“Jeffrey’s athletic,” Wooden said. “Jeffrey’s like 300 pounds and trying to run with me, and I’m 286. So that should say something.”

While M’ba looks to find a home for himself in Auburn’s defensive line rotation this season, he has already endeared himself to his new teammates off the field. When asked about the affable sophomore, first-year defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding couldn’t help but smile. Whether he’s intentionally making jokes or inadvertently amusing his teammates with some of his French quirks — like the other day after practice, when teammates teased him for writing out numbers in French while taking notes about Auburn’s defensive scheme — M’ba’s personality has already made him a locker room favorite.

“That positive energy is just contagious,” Schmedding said. “There’s no doubt about it. He loves football. He loves his teammates. He knows how to work. I’m excited to see him in pads… but the first thing I’m excited about is what I talked about, is the way he brings his energy and his love for the game and his love for his teammates.”

The man who refers to himself as Thanos — after the Marvel villain, though teammates were apparently unaware of that nickname — has only been through a few practices so far, but between the opening days of fall camp and his work during the summer, his physical attributes were easy to notice. He’s strong, quick, agile and has impressive hand work to help him shed blockers at the line. As left tackle Kilian Zierer put it Friday, M’ba is “a freakish athlete” who just needs to get back into the swing of things after missing spring.

While M’ba has looked the part so far and has progressed well under first-year defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh, Schmedding is eager to see how far the physically gifted defensive lineman can come over the next few weeks. That will determine just what kind of impact M’ba can have on the field during his first season on the Plains.

“He hasn’t put together the scheme,” Wooden said. “But once he gets together and, OK, that’s how you do that; that’s how you play, Jeffrey will fit right in like a glove.”

Or perhaps more appropriately, an Infinity gauntlet.

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit al.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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