He'll not have the luxury of taking breathers in the pros. And when he goes full-bore, Bruce is a sight to behold. He has been known to work himself into a frenzy at the line of scrimmage. Tears will stream down his cheeks, and he will taunt opposing tackles and tight ends with cries of "You can't stop me!"
Bruce claims to hold an unofficial Auburn record for starting fights in practice. Football's violence clearly turns him on. "When I'm on the line, I feel a burning sensation in my stomach," he says. "In that intense moment, I want everything to start moving. I can't act that way off the field. People would think I'm psycho. Actually, I'm a laidback guy. But when I play football, I'm an intense ball of heat."
On a cool March evening, Lucille Bruce's tiny four-bedroom house in the Gibbs Village projects of Montgomery is buzzing with visitors. A couple of skillets of cornbread and a vat of collard greens are warming on the stove. In the oven, three chickens sputter in an enormous roaster. "Mama still thinks she's cooking for an army," says Bruce.
"I don't know how to cook just a little bit," says Lucille, almost apologetically. But her penchant for producing big meals is understandable: She raised 14 children—seven boys and seven girls—almost by herself. Her husband and Aundray's father, Willie James Bruce, was found slumped over the wheel of his tractor-trailer, shot to death when Aundray was still a toddler. "The police never found out who did it," says Arthur.
Lucille worked as a maid and a babysitter to feed her brood. Arthur and Sylvester supplemented the family's income by washing cars and moving furniture. Daughters Corine, now 40, Delores, 39, Willie Mae, 37, and Barbara, 33, did the grocery shopping, cleaned the house and helped cook meals and raise the younger children. "It was important for our family to be close," says Sylvester. "No matter how tough things got, we wouldn't be divided."
Bruce, the second youngest, received most of Lucille's attention. He was forever challenging another of his sisters, Teresa, to races on Gibbs Street. Teresa, a year older, never lost. "Boobie would fall, tear his britches and come home crying," Lucille recalls. "I'd sew 'em up, and he'd go right back out there."
Says Aundray, "Teresa was a headache. Everybody looked down on me because I couldn't outperform my sister." He retaliated by playing practical jokes on her. After school he would hide under her bed, and the moment she plopped on the mattress, he would reach out and grab her ankles. Sometimes he would hide in the closet instead, and burst from it to surprise her. While she was taking a shower, Aundray would go outside and sneak up to the bathroom window. Then he would holler. "I'd nearly break my butt," says Teresa, "I'd jump so high."
By his sophomore year in high school, Aundray had grown to 6'3" and 185 pounds and had developed into one of the best players on the Carver High football team. He started at tight end and outside linebacker, but also played at eight other positions: tackle, end, noseguard and cornerback on defense, and tackle, wide receiver, running back and quarterback on offense. And he returned kicks. "I couldn't afford to take him out of the game," says Davis Brock, Carver's coach.
During practices Brock made Bruce work harder than everybody else. When the first team took water breaks, Brock insisted that Bruce keep playing with the scrubs. As a prank Bruce appeared at practice one day wrapped in Ace bandages from helmet to cleats. Brock laid down the law—20 laps around the field. "Aundray had so much talent, but he only performed at 70 percent of his capabilities," Brock says. "I was determined he would reach his potential."
Says Bruce, "I was just playing football to keep in shape for basketball. Basketball was my first love."