Tiger Trail of Auburn inducts Class of 2024

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Sidewalk plaques of Auburn greats Takeo Spikes, Kasey Cooper, Caitlin Atkinson-Tomlin and Cliff Ellis will soon grace downtown Auburn. (Zach Bland/AU Athletics)

Sidewalk plaques of Auburn greats Takeo Spikes, Kasey Cooper, Caitlin Atkinson-Tomlin and Cliff Ellis will soon grace downtown Auburn

AUBURN, Ala.  A Fantastic Four representing three decades of Auburn Athletics excellence: Takeo Spikes, Kasey Cooper, Caitlin Atkinson-Tomlin and Cliff Ellis were inducted Saturday into the Tiger Trail of Auburn.

The quartet of Tiger greats reflected on their time on the Plains during a ceremony in the Rane Room of the Auburn Athletics Complex before drawing to determine the location of their sidewalk markers downtown.

Spikes, an All-American linebacker in 1997, played 15 seasons in the NFL after being picked in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft.

“When I think about Auburn, I think about great moments, monumental moments, and I think about great people,” said Spikes, who seamlessly transitioned into broadcasting after his playing career and serves an SEC Network analyst.

Spikes recalled attending the 1993 Iron Bowl as a high school junior, and how as a freshman he was told he would be paired with All-American offensive lineman Willie Anderson in the famed Oklahoma Drill the next day in practice.

“They told me the night before, ‘Hey, you’ve got to go up against Willie Anderson,'” Spikes recollected. “I was like, ‘Man, no I don’t.’ The whole night I’m praying, ‘God just let me hold up for three seconds.’ Thank God, the next the next day they said, ‘Linebackers, you only go up against the tight ends.’ That was the biggest exhale I ever had.”

When Spikes joined the Cincinnati Bengals in 1998, he reunited with Anderson, his former teammate on the Plains.  

“When I walked in the locker room, it gave me so much comfort,” said Spikes, motioning to Anderson, who attended the ceremony before Auburn’s A-Day game. “Willie, I appreciate your leadership. You showed me how to become a pro at such a young age.”

Takeo Spikes at the 2024 Tiger Trail of Auburn induction ceremony / Photo: Zach Bland / Auburn Athletics
Takeo Spikes: ‘One word comes to mind and that’s family’

After retiring from the NFL, Spikes returned to Auburn University in 2017 to complete his degree. Three years later, his daughter enrolled at Auburn. Now a senior following her father’s footsteps into broadcasting, Jakai Spikes interviewed each of the inductees, including her dad, for her podcast.

“When we talk about Auburn, and what it means to an Auburn man or an Auburn woman, one word comes to mind and that’s family,” said Takeo before turning to Jakai. “To see you graduate in August – I’ve done a lot of cool stuff in life – this is the coolest.”

Cooper, a three-time Auburn softball All-American, 2016 SEC Player of the Year and national player of the year, helped the Tigers win two SEC Tournament championships and make back-to-back Women’s College World Series appearances.

“My family was very big on hard work, dedication,” said Cooper, crediting her sister, Kortney, six years older than Kasey, for helping develop her work ethic. “She said, ‘Somebody’s out there working for your position. Don’t let them take it.'”

A two-time SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and mechanical engineering graduate from Auburn University’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, Cooper graduated in 2023 from UAB’s Heersink School of Medicine and is completing the first year of her ophthalmology residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“It was fun winning, but boy, Auburn looks so much nicer not doing 5 a.m. workouts,” she said, drawing laughs from attendees. “I miss what it took to be great. You have to do that to be great. Auburn broke me, and it breaks everybody because it builds you back stronger, and you appreciate all of that.”

Kasey Cooper at the 2024 Tiger Trail of Auburn induction ceremony / Photo: Zach Bland / Auburn Athletics
Dr. Kasey Cooper: ‘Auburn builds you back stronger’

The 2016 SEC Gymnast of the Year, Atkinson-Tomlin credits senior athletic trainer Janet (Taylor) Clark for inspiring her to become a physical therapist assistant.

“I love Auburn, truly,” said Atkinson-Tomlin, “I had a patient the other day say, ‘Why are you always wearing Auburn?’ I said, ‘Because I love Auburn.'”

As a senior, Atkinson-Tomlin helped Auburn defeat Alabama for the first time, which she ranked as “the top highlight of my career,” until Saturday.

“Today I stand here with a new highlight and that’s being inducted into the Tiger Trail of Auburn,” she said. “In the famous words of one of my teammates, we used to say this after practice. War Eagle yesterday, War Eagle today, and War Eagle every day for the rest of our lives.”

Caitlin Atkinson-Tomlin at the 2024 Tiger Trail of Auburn induction ceremony / Photo: Zach Bland / Auburn Athletics
2016 SEC Gymnast of the Year Caitlin Atkinson

Recently retired after a college basketball coaching career that spanned more than 50 seasons and totaled 831 Division-I wins, Ellis earned 186 victories at Auburn from 1994-2004.

“Auburn’s family,” said Ellis, who was honored as Auburn’s 2024 SEC Legend in March during the SEC Tournament, a quarter century after leading the Tigers to the 1999 SEC championship. “Even though I’ve been gone for a long time, it’s still family to me.

“The players and coaches I was with, they made the difference. We had a great run.”

Founded in 1995 by the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, the Tiger Trail recognizes legendary Auburn student-athletes, coaches and administrators with plaques bearing their names on downtown sidewalks.

The inaugural class included Bo Jackson, Chuck Person, Vickie Orr, Jeff Beard, Jimmy Hitchcock, Harvey Glance, Rowdy Gaines, Ralph “Shug” Jordan, John Mengelt, Travis Tidwell, Pat Sullivan, Zeke Smith and Tucker Frederickson.

The Class of 2024 represents the second group of Tiger Trail inductees since 2018, bringing the total number of honorees to 136.

Cliff Ellis at the 2024 Tiger Trail of Auburn induction ceremony / Photo: Zach Bland / Auburn Athletics
Cliff Ellis coached Auburn men’s basketball from 1994-2004