As a three-year starter at offensive tackle for Plant City, Brian Osborn was a pure Florida Gators fan. He went to instructional camp in Gainesville and soon found himself in The Swamp as a prospective recruit, but he was never actively sought by the Gators.
For Osborn, a Class 5A second-team all-state selection his senior year, Oct. 15, 1994, is a day he won't soon forget. That's when his then No. 6-ranked Auburn Tigers extended the nation's longest Division IA win streak to 18 with a 36-33 victory over Florida, knocking the Gators from the No. 1 spot.
But the victory was bittersweet for Osborn because he was forced to watch from the sidelines with a torn ligament in his knee.
"It was the worst thing I've ever seen," the 6-foot-5, 296-pound Osborn said. "It was tough not being able to play. It felt like I was dying inside."
Before the Sept. 24 game against East Tennessee State, Osborn had all but earned his first starting duty in four years. But in practice, he reinjured the knee he hurt last year against Florida. That proved to be a season-ending injury and it came right after he had battled back from mononucleosis.
"That turned everything around for me," Osborn said. "It's been a hard road, but I came back and played well and this time is no different."
Osborn ended up at Auburn after Florida State revoked scholarships it had intended to give to offensive linemen in 1990. He had verbally committed to FSU, but his would-be scholarship was shifted to a defensive back position three months before his freshman year. For Osborn, that was all just part of a growing process coming out of Plant City, where the Raiders struggled in his final year.
"At Plant City, you're kind of the man _ always in the papers," he said. "(At Auburn) everybody you play against is the man. You just have to step it up to another level."
Although Osborn hasn't reached that next level yet, having been redshirted in 1990 and falling to season-ending injuries in 1991 and 1993, he has been part of teams full of high-caliber talent.
He has backed up three current NFL linemen: Chris Gray of the Miami Dolphins, Anthony Redmon of the Arizona Cardinals, and Wayne Gandy, a first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams.
Osborn believes that if he weren't prone to injuries, he might have been the one on the professional scouts' list of prospects.
Even though a pro career is a long shot for the senior, he plans to stay involved in football after he graduates in the spring. He said he would consider offers from the Canadian Football League, but that the Arena League isn't for him.
"I pretty much have no knees now," he said. "So I'm looking into coaching. I want to know what it feels like to be on the other side of the spectrum."
But for now, the exercise science major is set on helping the Tigers the rest of the season.
"I'm back and nothing can stop me now," Osborn said. "I want to get my starting position back and play in the final four games."