*Courtesy Auburn Media Relations
AUBURN, Ala. - J.B. Grimes, Auburn's offensive line coach, has taught 11 future NFL centers in a career spanning more than three decades. And junior Reese Dismukes, he says, stands alone.
"I've got to believe he's the best one I ever coached," Grimes says. "I know that's saying a mouthful, but the combination of how he plays, his physical and mental toughness and how smart he is, I believe he's the best I've ever had."
Back in December, when he arrived from Arkansas State, Grimes wasn't sure what to make of Dismukes, a starter since the first game of his freshman season.
"When I met him, I didn't see a physically imposing guy, but I'd heard about this center that was supposed to be really good," Grimes says. "Then I put some tape on and got to watching him. I said, `You know what? This ol' boy is pretty good. He's a really good football player.' Then I got to coaching him, and he got even better."
Today, Dismukes is the anchor of a dominating offensive line that gets better as it goes for the Tigers, who have washed away the miserable memories of a 3-9 record in 2012 with a 6-1 start. They'll try to make it 7-1 Saturday against Florida Atlantic at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Dismukes' journey hasn't always been smooth, but the combination of athleticism, toughness, intelligence and work ethic have been there since he was growing up in Spanish Fort.
Summers were for yard work or working in his father's plumbing company or running the concessions stand at the youth league ballpark. He and his father together built a youth football park in Spanish Fort that today is Dismukes Field.
"He'd have me picking weeds in the yard or working at the plumbing company he owns," Dismukes says. "We built a football field. It's called Spanish Fort. He was kind of over the ballpark. I ran the concession stand. I started off just picking up trash. I knew everybody in the town. I'd do that and drag the field and do that stuff, then work the concession stand and cook all the food. I always had to work."
Ed and Kim Dismukes saw when Reese was young that he would be a talented athlete. He excelled in every sport he tried. He loved to hunt and fish.
"He could swim as well as anybody, play tennis as well as anybody even when he got huge," Ed Dismukes says. "He played golf as well as anybody. He is Just a good natural athlete. You can probably attribute that to his mama. She was a swimmer. His grandfather actually played football at Georgia Tech and transferred to Georgia and was a swimmer.
"Reese was always inquisitive. He could do anything you asked him do. He could put together stuff. If I needed something put together at Christmas, Reese could do it. He didn't mind doing stuff. He didn't mind working hard."
Jonah, Reese Dismukes' older brother, was a kicker at Alabama in 1996 and 1997, but his mother graduated from Auburn. Instead of playing youth football, Reese accompanied his parents to Auburn games during his elementary school years. It was in middle school that he began to blossom an offensive lineman with a unique combination of toughness, athleticism and intelligence.
As a sophomore at Spanish Fort High School, Dismukes beat out a returning senior starter and became the starting center. By the time he was a senior, some rated him the top center prospect in the country. For a time, it seemed he was bound for Alabama.
"Yeah, I was close," Dismukes says. "I think I was kind of like committed under the table."
But in the end, he publicly committed to Auburn in the summer before his senior season and enrolled in January of 2011. He had no interest in extending the recruiting process.
"My mom went here," says Dismukes, who has four brothers and sisters. "That was a big thing, and the family atmosphere. Ryan Pugh was leaving and I'd have an opportunity to step in right away. That had a lot to do with it, too.
"I don't really like the whole recruiting process. You are getting told you are amazing, and you'll come in and play right away and all that. It's almost a disadvantage to the kid. You are on Cloud 9. You are coming into college and think you're about to be everything, then you get shot down to zero. It really helped me coming in early. I kind of had a while to get shot down and then work myself up."
Dismukes was already in school at Auburn when the 2010 Tigers went to Glendale, Ariz., in January 2011 and beat Oregon to win the national championship. He expected big things in the years to come, but there were lessons to be learned.
In the spring of 2011, Dismukes beat out third-year sophomore Blake Burgess to win the starting center's job. The Tigers went 8-5 that first season, but the second season was turned upside down almost from the start.
Dismukes was suspended for the first game. And the season soon unraveled into a full-blown disaster that would bring a new coaching staff and a new direction for Auburn football. Dismukes put the troubles of the summer and the season of 2012 behind him and bought eagerly into what first-year head coach Gus Malzahn and his staff were preaching.
"I'm walking a lot narrower line and trying to everything I can to give my team the best chance to win," Dismukes says.
And that's what's happening. Auburn is winning, and the offensive line is playing a lead role. In last Saturday's 45-41 victory at Texas A&M, the Tigers rushed for a gaudy 379 yards. They faced nine men in the box and ran for big yards anyway. They lead the SEC in rushing, averaging 300 yards per game.
"That's when it's really fun," Dismukes says. "You know you have them on the ropes and they are really tired. When you get to that point, it gets really fun."
It was fun, too, when it was over and Malzahn celebrated with his players.
"It was awesome," Dismukes says. "There is nothing better than winning on the road. It was a breath-taking experience. He was so proud of us and we are so proud of him. He's the reason we are successful. We have each other's back and that kind of thing. I'm glad he's our head coach."
And Auburn coaches are glad Dismukes is their center.
"(Strength and conditioning coach) Ryan Russell and his staff have gotten hold of him, and together they have done an unbelievable job," Grimes says. "What has happened is he has actually stayed the same body weight but has gotten tremendously strong and hard. He's become one heck of a football player."