The following story, written by Adam Pollard, was originally published on auburntigers.com.
When Jacob vonEschenbach arrived at Auburn, playing football was not foremost on his mind. He had played well in high school in Enterprise, Alabama, and had offers from some smaller schools, but was not coming to Auburn for football. VonEschenbach, whose mother Melissa was a Tiger Paw, grew up an Auburn fan. He came to Auburn for the family-like atmosphere and found that family first in the club rugby program. "I made some really good friends there and the team was pretty competitive," he said.
After playing two seasons of rugby, when some of the older team members graduated, vonEschenbach was looking for an even tougher level of competition so he decided to try out as a walk-on for the football team in the spring of 2018. "Another way to push my limits and get the most of my college experience," he said.
As his junior season approached, vonEschenbach prepared for winter tryouts. After a few interviews, vonEschenbach had made it to the walk-on workout, where the coaches would decide who was a good fit for the team. "Of about 60 people, I was one of only three that made it. Once I made it, I was excited, but I knew that wasn't the end goal. I tried to learn as much as I could and prepare myself physically for the challenge ahead," he said.
Although spring football that year was his first experience with the program, vonEschenbach had already experienced walking on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium twice. The first time, for the "Kick Six" Iron Bowl in 2013, he rushed the field post-game. The second time was when his father Thomas, who retired two years ago as a colonel in Army aviation, was honored during halftime at the 2017 Iron Bowl for his military service.
However, walking onto the field with his name on his jersey was a completely different experience. "A year earlier I was just in the stands," he said. "I had no idea I would be playing. It's really a blessing and something that most people never get to experience."
His favorite moment on the team so far has been the 2019 Iron Bowl. "With so many lead changes, insane plays, and then winning -- that was definitely one of my favorite moments on the team so far."
VonEschenbach saw his first game action against Alabama State in 2018 and the next season against Kent State he combined with O.C. Brothers for a sack. This season, he is looking to get more playing time and hopes to make an impactful play during a big game.
VonEschenbach knows that the 2020 season will be different with the prospect of not being able to have a full stadium due to the coronavirus pandemic, but he says he and his teammates have maintained their fitness during the quarantine. "I know that if we play in the fall we'll be one of the most prepared teams in the nation," he said. "We have worked hard to be ready whenever the season starts."
Off the field, vonEschenbach is focusing on his classwork. He is planning to graduate from Auburn University's Ginn College of Engineering in spring 2021 in industrial and systems engineering before moving to Huntsville, Alabama to work in that field. "Football motivates my schoolwork, because we talk about holding ourselves to a higher standard, not just with what we do for the team, but it includes everything we do," he said. "The high level of training and expectations we have on the team carries over to life in the classroom. I would like to have a 3.5 GPA or better this year."
The defensive lineman appreciates his coaches, especially defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and associate head coach Rodney Garner. "I always look up to them," he said. "They have taught me a lot about being tough, being a man, and taking responsibility."
He takes Coach Garner's saying as a personal standard: "Do the little things right and the big things will fall in place." VonEschenbach's message to his younger teammates is to "be tough and stick with it. You'll transform into a person you never knew you could become.
"What we have here is more than football and the players who get to be a part of that understand it. War Eagle means a lot," he said. "Any time you hear it, it's like 'hello' in another language. If you're around people you don't know and you hear 'War Eagle' it's familiar to you and it just means family."
To the fans who make up that family, Jacob says, "No matter what happens this season, whether we are together in the stadium or not, we appreciate your support and we won't let you down."