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August 26, 2013

Auburn football: Coordinators discuss positional rotations prior to depth chart release

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn has yet to release a depth chart heading into its season opener against Washington State on Saturday.

Until that time comes — it is expected to be released at some point Tuesday — which players will fill out the two-deep lineup remains a mystery. One of those positions is safety, where the dismissal of senior safety Demetruce McNeal left a gaping hole.

Senior cornerback Chris Davis (11) was one player Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had no worries about heading into Saturday's season opener versus Washington State. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Senior cornerback Chris Davis (11) was one player Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had no worries about heading into Saturday’s season opener versus Washington State. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Former cornerback Josh Holsey stepped in at the spot during the spring and stayed there for the duration of fall camp. With McNeal gone and barring any issues arising between now and the opener, Holsey will take the field as the team’s starting boundary safety.

As it stands, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said he was comfortable with three safeties as Saturday nears.

“You’ve got Holsey, Ryan Smith and (Jermaine) Whitehead,” Johnson said. “So I think right now, it would have to be some kind of a three-man rotation. Unless one of them got hurt, and then Kiehl Frazier will be ready to go.”

It was the same story at the two linebacker positions, Johnson said, at ease with the trio of Jake Holland, Kris Frost and Anthony Swain.

“I think Jake could move to the Will (line)backer if he had to,” Johnson said of the likely starter at middle linebacker. “Swain’s had a pretty good week of practice. I think first I’d probably put Swain on the field if he played well and did OK. If not, I’d move Jake over there. Frost and Holland are (the) only players at Mike right now.”

Johnson reiterated that view when asked whether weakside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy would stay on the field in Auburn’s dime package and shift to the middle, where he played last season.

“Cass hasn’t worked any at that,” he said. “It’s just too much for him to learn right now. When we go to dime, whatever Mike linebacker is on the field stays out there. They’re not asked to do anything outside the box. There’s really nothing they physically can’t handle, but we’ll usually leave that mike linebacker on the field. It’s about the fewest number of guys going on and off the field.”

The three-man approach didn’t stop with linebackers and safeties, though. Johnson said it also extended to cornerback, where the Tigers are content with Chris Davis, Jonathon Mincy and Ryan White. Auburn is still trying to find a replacement for Jonathan Jones, who broke a bone in his ankle in an off-field accident near the end of fall camp. No timetable has been announced for his return.

The three players vying for time in Jones’ absence all lack experience, comprised of a redshirt freshman (T.J. Davis) and a pair of true freshmen (Kamryn Melton and Johnathan Ford).

Ford in particular has continued to impress Johnson since moving from running back to cornerback following Jones’ injury.

“Johnathan’s still learning. He’s not ready yet, but he physically is the most impressive of the bunch,” Johnson said. “You never know how much improvement they can make when we restrict the game plan and cut it down for them mentally. Sometimes that hesitation and confusion can lead to playing poorly fundamentally. If we clean that up, I think he is really going to be a good player there.”

Unlike the defense, the offense has few positions still undecided.

One is at right tackle, where Patrick Miller and Avery Young split reps throughout fall camp. Young, however, started to switch between tackle and guard as fall camp came to a close. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee couldn’t find enough good things to say about the sophomore, who sat out spring practice while rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

Though the average person may not know finer points of what it takes to be an offensive lineman, Lashlee believed Young would be easy to spot even to the untrained eye.

Young’s talent stands on its own merit.

“He’s an athletic guy,” Lashlee said. “At guard he can really pull. At tackle he’s very athletic, really good in the run game. Shoot, he hasn’t done it yet, but he would probably be a really good center. He’s just a real versatile guy.”

August 21, 2013

Auburn football: Five questions (and five predictions) as Tigers head into regular season

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn wrapped up its fall camp on Tuesday, the first since Gus Malzahn took over as head coach.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn found his starting quarterback during fall camp, but the Tigers still have question marks heading into their season opener Aug 31. (File by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn found his starting quarterback during fall camp, but the Tigers still have question marks heading into their season opener Aug 31. (File by Todd Van Emst)

The Tigers were able to solve what Malzahn considered “the No. 1 priority” heading into the regular season — settling on a quarterback. That four-man race concluded last Saturday, when Nick Marshall was named the starter. But with just 10 days left before Washington State comes into Jordan-Hare Stadium for the season opener, Auburn is still looking for answers at other positions.

Here are five questions (in no particular order) the Tigers will try to figure out prior to squaring off against the Cougars on Aug. 31, with (bold) predictions on what the outcomes will be:

Who starts at right tackle?

For the duration of fall camp, it appeared Avery Young and Patrick Miller were neck-and-neck at the position, as both saw time with the first-team offense. Earlier this week, however, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Miller had “been working there a lot” in recent practices. During the same interview session, Lashlee said Young had moved inside and started taking snaps at both guard spots, though he saw more time on the left side, which has been manned by Alex Kozan.

Malzahn refused to shed any more light on the situation following practice on Tuesday, but expect a decision by the beginning of next week — even if the coaching staff doesn’t make its choice public.

Bold prediction: Miller becomes the right tackle, and Young, who Lashlee said is “talented enough to play all five positions,” steals the left guard spot from Kozan.

Who is the team’s go-to receiver?

One of the biggest unknowns heading into fall camp remains the same at its closure. The Tigers have a lot of options at receiver, but none has stood above the rest. Just see what Lashlee had to say earlier this week. “I’ll be honest right now,” he said. “I don’t know who our leading receiver is going to be.” Lashlee lauded juniors Quan Bray and Jaylon Denson for their consistency, but didn’t rule out tight end C.J. Uzomah possibly developing into the best pass-catcher the Tigers will have this fall.

Bold prediction: Sophomore Ricardo Louis, who was the “most explosive” player in camp according to teammates, establishes himself as the Tigers’ top receiver this season (and beyond).

What happens at defensive end without Dee Ford?

The Tigers certainly would have liked to have some semblance of a rotation in place by now. Injuries have made that difficult. The starter at left end, Ford has already been ruled out for the opener due to a ligament injury in his knee. But he’s far from the only player who dealt with an affliction during camp. Fellow ends Kenneth Carter and Nosa Eguae have missed time, while Keymiya Harrell has yet to practice after having surgery knee surgery this spring. To combat their lack of healthy bodies, the Tigers also moved LaDarius Owens back to end after he had shifted to linebacker during spring practice.

The absences allowed true freshmen Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel to audition for a possible starting spot, and they have done their part to impress defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, saying the duo already comprises “two of our best pass-rushers.”

Bold prediction: Though Johnson said he would prefer to have his “veterans prepped up to be the starters,” Lawson is on the field at one of the end positions with the first-team defense versus Washington State.

Who holds the edge at middle linebacker?

Kris Frost entered the fall No. 1 on the depth chart, but he didn’t stay there long. Time and again, Johnson said Jake Holland has been the steadier player during practice, and as such, moved him ahead of Frost. Johnson explained the difference between the two on Monday.

“Kris had two or three days where he kind of went backwards, had some missed assignments and some things that were uncharacteristic and shouldn’t have done,” he said. ” … The two legitimate scrimmages that we had, Jake just had more production, had more tackles, more plays, had a pick (and) hasn’t had as many missed tackles.”

That should tell people all they need to know.

Bold prediction: Frost continues to fight the good fight, but Holland is in the starting lineup come game time.

What’s the deal with the secondary?

Much like the defensive line, injuries have taken their toll on the Tigers’ back end. Jonathan Jones will miss the opener (and possibly more) after breaking a bone in his ankle in an off-field mishap. That means the No. 3 corner on the Tigers will come from a trio of first-year players: redshirt freshman T.J. Davis and true freshmen Kamryn Melton and Johnathan Ford, who switched from running back this week.

Demetruce McNeal’s decision-making didn’t help matters, whose arrest last Saturday led to his dismissal and weakened an already-lean unit at safety. Originally a cornerback, Josh Holsey has been at the strong (or boundary) safety position since the end of the spring, when McNeal missed the last five practices for undisclosed personal issues. McNeal then sat out the first 10 practices of camp following an infection that required minor surgery, which forced Holsey to remain at safety. Many thought he would finally move back to corner after McNeal regained his health, but the senior was dismissed before the Tigers ever reached that point. If anything were to happen Holsey or fellow safety Jermaine Whitehead, it would be down to Ryan Smith and quarterback-turned-safety Kiehl Frazier.

Bold prediction: The two former offensive players — Ford and Frazier — see more action on defense than they ever would have imagined one month ago.

August 20, 2013

Auburn football: True freshman Johnathan Ford switching from running back to cornerback

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — No one can say Auburn’s offensive players aren’t selfless.

True freshman running back Johnathan Ford voluntarily moved to corneback following Jonathan Jones' off-field injury. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

True freshman running back Johnathan Ford voluntarily moved to corneback following Jonathan Jones’ off-field injury. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

For the second time in as many weeks, one of its players will be moving over to work with the Tigers’ defense. Running back Johnathan Ford offered to switch to cornerback, one week after Kiehl Frazier dropped out of the quarterback race to focus on becoming a safety. And echoing Frazier’s actions, Ford wasn’t asked to shift to defense by the coaching staff.

Seeing how thin the Tigers’ cornerback unit became following Jonathan Jones’ recent off-field mishap — which saw him break a bone in his ankle after slipping on wet steps, ruling him out for the season opener against Washington State on Aug. 31 — the true freshman felt his talents could be put to use.

“I know he came to us and said, ‘Coach, I want to help the team win and win now,'” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said following Monday night’s practice. “Right now that’s what is best for our football team. He’s a big-time athlete, so to be able to be young and come in and prove yourself on offense and go right over and us think he’s got a chance to help us on defense, I think says a lot about his character as a person, his toughness and his ability.”

The Big Cove, Ala., native was one of the top running back prospects in the country last year after rushing for 1,669 yards and 27 touchdowns at New Hope High School. He was already making a case for playing time during camp, despite the depth in the backfield thanks to returnees Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant as well as fellow freshman Peyton Barber.

“We love ‘Rudy.’ He’s going to be a really good player,” said Lashlee, invoking one of Ford’s many nicknames. “We feel like his future is very bright. He was slated to play on a lot of teams so we were going to find a way to get him into the mix, but at the end of the day we’ve got to win and do what is best for the team.”

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson acknowledged Ford won’t be able to transform himself overnight. And he’s fine with that.

He knows a gifted player when he sees one.

“It’s going to take him a little while to learn it,” Johnson said. “He looks really good physically, now. He’s got all the skills.”

Ford has worked alongside redshirt freshman T.J. Davis and another true freshman in Kamryn Melton as the trio attempts to fill in at the No. 3 cornerback spot manned by Jones.

Whenever the sophomore recovers from his ankle injury, Ford will likely return to running back.

Lashlee will welcome him back with open arms.

“It just came down to, at the end of the day, it helps to move Johnathan to defense right now and he’s one of those guys that wants to play and wants to help us win,” he said. “(So) that’s the move we made.”

August 5, 2013

While Demetruce McNeal waits to practice, other members of secondary seize opportunity

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — It’s been a while since Demetruce McNeal has been able to practice with his teammates.

Entering the fourth day of Auburn’s fall camp on Monday, the senior safety has missed eight straight practices. He missed the final five practices of the spring due to an undisclosed personal issue, and did not participate in the first three days of fall camp, battling what head coach Gus Malzahn said was “a medical issue.”

Sophomore Josh Holsey has practiced at both corner and safety while Demetruce McNeal has missed Auburn's last eight practices. He's also been teaching the newcomers in the Tigers' secondary. (File photo)

Sophomore Josh Holsey has practiced at both corner and safety while Demetruce McNeal has missed Auburn’s last eight practices. He’s also been teaching the newcomers in the Tigers’ secondary. (File photo)

McNeal’s absence has been noticeable. He is the most experienced member of the Tigers’ secondary, after all, starting 20 games over the past two seasons. But while he’s been out, it’s provided an opportunity for other players to get a look at safety.

And in the case of Josh Holsey, it just means more snaps at the boundary safety position. He entered the fall at the top of the depth chart along with McNeal, even though the sophomore started six games at corner last season. He could move back there, or he could stick at safety.

Holsey doesn’t care as long as he’s on the field.

“I know corner like the back of my hand, so I know if I have to go back, I know I can do it,” he said. “If they need me to play safety, that’s what I’d do. That’s what I’ve been studying every day now. Safety is getting just as easy as corner was.”

Holsey said he has practiced exclusively at safety thus far, but believes he’ll probably start going back and forth between safety and corner when McNeal returns.

Holsey is doing his best to bring some of the newcomers in the secondary up to speed, too. Among that group are a pair of freshmen in Kamryn Melton and Khari Harding, as well as Brandon King, who transferred from Highland Community College.

“They’re learning. They don’t really know as much right now but I’m teaching them,” Holsey said. “I know I’m learning as well, but I know a little more than what they do. They’re asking me questions and I’m telling them whenever they need help to come ask me.”

Junior cornerback Jonathon Mincy has seen the same things as Holsey, impressed how quickly the young players are catching on.

“That’s something that is going to be key to this defense,” he said. “Just having everybody able to bring something to the table and having a lot of hands on deck.”

Holsey has taken a specific interest mentoring King. He sits beside the junior college transfer each day in the safeties’ meeting room, pointing out the pre-snap checks they’re making as well as answering any other questions on King’s mind.

Mincy couldn’t say enough about Holsey’s leadership shining through and setting an example for the rest of the players in the secondary.

“He’s communicating out there and that’s a guy I know that is going to bring it all on the line when it comes game time,” Mincy said. “(He’s) just somebody who always has outstanding work ethic.”

Holsey isn’t one who likes to talk about himself. Heck, he sheepishly admitted he came up with an interception during Saturday’s practice, a sore topic among members of the secondary after it tallied only one pickoff last year. But Mincy couldn’t even recall which quarterback he pilfered.

“It came off a tipped ball, so I was fortunate to get a good one,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll probably get some more to try and catch them slipping.”

Whenever McNeal returns, he’ll join a secondary out to prove last season’s showing was a fluke. Mincy doesn’t even care if the Tigers interception numbers don’t dramatically increase.

He just doesn’t want to see the ball landing in a receiver’s hands.

“Just as long as nobody is catching the ball on us, that’s something we can make an adjustment on and that’s something we can take in positive,” he said. “And (hopefully) keep it going the rest of camp.”

March 20, 2013

Positional battles to watch: Defensive backs

This is the first of an 8-day series previewing each Auburn position leading into spring football. Tomorrow: linebackers.

Arkansas Auburn Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – A healthy mix of talented veterans and tasty youngsters who got plenty of playing time? Not a bad start for a couple of long-time coaching buddies to work with.

Charlie Harbison has the safeties, which means he’ll guide two entrenched starters in Demetruce McNeal and Jermaine Whitehead along with role players Ryan Smith and Trent Fisher.

Melvin Smith takes cornerbacks, leading upperclassmen Chris Davis and Jonathan Mincy while hoping to craft sophomores-to-be Joshua Holsey and Jonathan Jones into the next Johnthan Banks-Darius Slay type of pair.

As long as Harbison and Smith can do something about the Tigers’ 101th-ranked pass efficiency defense – not to mention start creating some turnovers – they’ll get along famously with fans.

Here’s a look at Auburn’s secondary, leading into spring football scrimmages:

Who’s been playing: CB Chris Davis (sr.), CB Joshua Holsey (so.), CB Jonathan Jones (so.), FS Demetruce McNeal (sr.), CB Jonathon Mincy (jr.), SS Ryan Smith (sr.), SS Jermaine Whitehead (jr.)

Who’s in waiting: CB T.J. Davis (r-fr.), S Trent Fisher (jr.), S Erique Florence (jr.), DB Jordan Spriggs (jr.), CB Robenson Therezie (jr.), CB Ryan White (sr.)

Who’s out the door: CB T’Sharvan Bell, DB Ikeem Means

Who’s in the door: DB Mackenro Alexander (Immokalee, Fla.), S Khari Harding (Edmond, Okla.), S Brandon King (Alabaster, Ala.), CB Kamryn Melton (Dothan, Ala.)

Who’s coaching ‘em up: Cornerbacks – Melvin Smith, 23rd year (18th in SEC); Safeties – Charlie Harbison, 21st year (11th in SEC)

Who’d they replace, where is he now: Willie Martinez, Tennessee

9.16p mcneal

Thoughts and musings:

“Clown show.” It was the most entertaining, and perhaps iconic, quote of the year, coming from the mouth of Demetruce McNeal in reference to the Tigers’ 2011 defensive effort at LSU. It turned out characterizing the entire 2012 season – while McNeal was probably Auburn’s most consistent defender (when he wasn’t in the doghouse), he was rarely allowed to speak with the media, for fear of sound bites like that one.

Jermaine Whitehead was one of just four Tigers (LB Daren Bates, WR Emory Blake and OL Chad Slade) to start all 12 games last fall.

Clemson_Auburn25_9-1-12- Erique Florence and Robenson Therezie have long been rumored to consider transferring from Auburn. Neither have done so – they’re each on the pre-spring roster and participating in winter workouts. Each were four-star recruits who would be ripe to benefit from a change of scenery in terms of the new coaching staff. So they’ll be two prospects to watch in April, especially in the spring game.

Florence missed two 2012 games for undisclosed personal reasons, and Therezie briefly switched to running back – a move he swore was his decision and was permanent – before returning to corner.

Chris Davis battled concussions the second half of the season. We’ll be asking him how he’s doing medically, being a hot topic in this era of competitive football.

Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 system requires a ‘star’ defender, who requires the speed of a safety and the size of a linebacker. Look for incoming junior college recruit Brandon King to compete for that spot immediately.

Which true freshman could play right away? Head coach Gus Malzahn said he needs a “vicious”-hitting safety, and that’s how, on Signing Day, he described Khari Harding.

Statistically speaking:

65.6 – Auburn opponents’ completion percentage in 2012, the 10th-highest mark in Division I football.

358 – passes attempted by Auburn opponents in 2012 – the 20th-least nationally.

20 – touchdown passes by Auburn opponents in 2012 – tied for 57th-least nationally.

2 – interceptions by Auburn players in 2012, tied with South Florida for the least in the country. One was by linebacker Daren Bates, the other was by occasionally-used safety Trent Fisher.

19 – interceptions by Mississippi State in 2012, led then by Melvin Smith. In the SEC, only Florida had more (20).

3 – sacks by Auburn defensive backs – one each for McNeal, Whitehead and Mincy.

6 – double-digit tackle games by McNeal, leading the Tigers. He did not register any tackles in three games – Clemson, Alabama A&M and Alabama.

90 – tackles by McNeal, just four off of Bates’ team-leading pace.

7 – tackles for a loss by McNeal, tied with Angelo Blackson leading the team.

37 – career games played for McNeal, who at times clashed with the former coaching staff. If he plays every regular season game plus a bowl game his senior year, McNeal hit the 50-game mark, one more than Daren Bates, John Sullen and Onterio McCalebb totaled.

159 – the number of solo tackles attributed to McNeal, Whitehead, Mincy and Davis, the four frequent secondary starters. That’s exactly one-third the entire team total by just those four defensive backs, which does not include another 89 by other DBs. Four of the team’s top six tacklers were in the secondary.

Good Twitter follows: The football field isn’t the only forum for a friendly rivalry between Josh Holsey and Jonathan Jones. Holsey’s @HeyItsJHolsey (4,431 followers) currently has the best of Jones’ @Jonathan_Jones2 (2,800), and both accounts showcase their owner’s personality: Holsey’s fun-loving and feisty, while Jones is more laid-back, cerebral and even philosophical when the moment strikes.

Say what? “With a 4-2-5, you’re wider. By relocating that third defensive back, it changes the dynamic of the corner … it’s all about leverage. If you’re in a 4-2-5, and you make a living in it, you’re going to play some man coverage. The reason people play the 4-2-5 is because of personnel matchup vs. the offense. The 4-2-5 allows you to cover whatever shows up.” – Melvin Smith, describing the role of cornerbacks in a true 4-2-5 package

Joshua Holsey

February 7, 2013

THREE-HEADED MONSTER: Auburn hauls in Adams, Daniel, Lawson to beef up D-Line

AUBURN FOOTBALL

AUBURN, Ala. — The moment Montravius Adams clutched a bear paw around an orange-brimmed Auburn University ball cap and placed it over his dreads, the dozens of officials anxiously watching in the War Eagle Conference room did their part to wake the neighbors.

Hoots and hollers, high-fives and hysterics, fist bumps all around.

“Give me some more of that,” an ear-to-ear grinning Gus Malzahn implored to right-hand-man Rodney Garner, a man who earned his paycheck (and then some) Wednesday morning. “God, that’s big.”

That was the goal: get bigger on defense. Stronger. Meaner.

Mission accomplished on national signing day, when Auburn settled in at around the back end of the top ten on most recruiting services’ class of 2013 team rankings by welcoming in 20 signees Wednesday (joining three early enrollees from January.)

That’s an impressive feat, considering Malzahn, Garner and their new colleagues had barely two months to convince blue-chip prospects to come play for a 3-9 squad and a new staff.

“I tell you what, it was a great feeling when he put on that Auburn hat,” Malzahn said. “That was a special feeling. Coach Garner’s had a relationship with him a long time. They’re extremely close.

“Everybody in the country was wanting him. But when he got home to Auburn — he loved Auburn before. When he came back on, he said, ‘I still feel the same way.’ So that was a very exciting moment this morning.”

Adams was the pleasant surprise of the morning, a five-star defensive tackle from Dooly County, Ga., who just as easily could have picked home-state Georgia, first love Clemson, or defending champion and Auburn nemesis Alabama.

“I love the coaches there, I love the players there, and it’s just the place that I think I want to be,” Adams said after announcing his decision on ESPNU’s daylong coverage.

There was more welcome news at the crack of dawn, when four-star defensive end Elijah Daniel’s name was on the first signed national letter of intent to emerge from the fax machine. Daniel had been committed to Ole Miss since Jan. 20, and was previously a Clemson pledge as well.

“It was a real tough decision. It was, like, late last night I was deciding,” Daniel said. “(I loved) their track record, Coach Garner’s track record, the players they’re welcoming in, and Auburn’s good people.”

AUBURN FOOTBALLThrow in Auburn holding serve by retaining summer verbal Carl Lawson — considered the nation’s top prospect not named Robert Nkemdiche — and Garner just landed three fresh-faced toys to play with next fall in the form of two 250-pound pass-rushers and a 310-pound run-stuffer.

“Coach Garner’s a great coach, and he’s going to have three guys that have a chance to help us immediately,” Malzahn said. “I know Coach Garner’s extremely excited.”

No, there’s no Dee Liner — he’s off to Alabama, just like Reuben Foster — but this is one heck of a D-Line.

“Y’all know in this league, you win on the offensive and defensive lines, and the defensive line was a focus,” Malzahn said. “The three guys we have, we feel like are three of the best in the entire country.”

Daniel was one of six total Auburn signees who were flipped from other schools. Running back Peyton Barber (Ole Miss), offensive lineman Deon Mix (Mississippi State), receiver Tony Stevens (Florida State, Texas A&M), receiver Dominic Walker (Nebraska) and safety Khari Harding (Arkansas) all were pledged elsewhere before ending up officially agreeing to play on the Plains.

Out of nine verbal commits who had stayed true to the program since before Gene Chizik’s firing Nov. 25 — a group that contains Lawson — eight stayed true to their word, including in-state quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson and Jason Smith, receiver Earnest Robinson, linebacker Cameron Toney and cornerback Kamryn Melton.

The only last-minute defector was defensive end Tashawn Bower, who ended up at LSU. But given the embarrassment of riches now at that position, it barely even mattered.

“We’ve got to have pass rushers. We’ve got to put pressure on the quarterback without blitzing,” said Malzahn, identifying one of many 2012 bugaboos. “I feel like the defensive ends can do that.”

Of course, recruiting rankings are only as good as the hard work the incoming freshmen put into their college careers. But Malzahn mandated he filled all the Tigers’ needs — especially along the defensive line.

“They wouldn’t have signed Adams without Garner. Wouldn’t have happened,” said AuburnSports.com managing editor Justin Hokanson, a Rivals recruiting analyst. “I think Adams had a great relationship with the other staff, and they had a really good shot of getting him, but when that staff left, I gave them basically no shot, even going into his visit.”

“But Garner came through huge.”

AUBURN FOOTBALL

February 6, 2013

The Class of 2013: Auburn signees list, with stories, Twitter handles and game tape … plus what Gus Malzahn said about each player

AUBURN FOOTBALL

GUS MALZAHN Opening Statement, Feb. 6:

“It’s been a great day. I’m very excited about this class. We’ve signed 23 so far in this class. Really feel like we accomplished that. Really like to compliment our staff; they did a wonderful job on a short period of time. A new staff coming in – we had a lot of obstacles as far as trying to develop relationships and a lot of different things. Anytime you come in and you don’t retain anybody from the previous staff and you have a lot of commitments, there’s a lot of things that go with that and I’m extremely excited and pleased with our staff.”

AUBURN CLASS OF 2013 SIGNEES (all star ratings via Fox Sports/Scout.com)

Early Enrollees

4* RB Cameron Artis-Payne (Harrisburg, Pa.) | Allan Hancock CC | 5-11, 215
The No. 1 juco back in the country, per 247Sports, rushed for 2,048 yards and 25 TDs in 10 games last fall. Ideal Tre Mason complement
Story: Tigers ink top JUCO RB Cameron Artis-Payne
Twitter: @ThaRealKillaCam
Malzahn says: “A big, physical runner. Really think he’s going to provide some very good depth, and I think he’ll be a very good player for us.”

**********

3* OG Devonte Danzey (Tampa, Fla.) | Hutchinson CC (Kan.) | 6-3, 303
The No. 1 juco guard in the country, per 247Sports, could compete right away for one open spot along the Tigers’ line
Story: Tigers unwrap another junior college present; Devonte Danzey, the nation’s top available OG
Malzahn says: “We needed some help at center and at guard, and I feel like he’ll have a chance to help us immediately.”

**********

4* DT Ben Bradley (Norcross, Ga.) | Hutchinson CC (Kan.) | 6-3, 310
Followed Danzey to the Plains, where both are already enrolled and prepping for spring practice
Brief: Defensive tackle Ben Bradley gives Auburn a third juco prospect
Twitter: @IamAmbition98
Malzahn says: “We needed depth up front, and this guy is very athletic and very strong.”

Wednesday signees, listed in chronological order of received national letter of intent

4* DE Elijah Daniel (Avon, Ind.) | Avon HS | 6-4, 250
Flipped from Ole Miss to Auburn, the Tigers’ first fax Wednesday
Story: Elijah Daniel, Tony Stevens first to fax signed letters to Auburn
Twitter: @ElijahDaniel6
Malzahn says: “He was our first commit of the day. Pass rushing was one of our big needs and this guy can really do it. Had a relationship with Rodney Garner that goes way back. He signed this morning and we’re tickled to death to have him.”

**********

4* WR Tony Stevens (Orlando, Fla.) | Evans HS | 6-4, 184
Receptions by Auburn receivers taller than 6-2 in 2012; one, by 6-3 Jaylon Denson. Previously a Florida State and Texas A&M verbal
Story: Auburn snatches two verbal commits from SEC rivals, loses RB
Twitter: @TS8_NewEra
Malzahn says: “He’s a big, tall wide receiver. He’s got tremendous skills, he’s s kick returner. Dameyune Craig did a wonderful job with him – had a previous relationship, and he has a chance to be an impact player.”

**********

3* WR Dominic Walker (Orlando, Fla.) | Evans HS | 6-2, 194
Flipping Stevens paved the way to pair him with Walker, giving the Tigers’ pass-catchers some much-needed depth
Story: Auburn beefs up WR depth, flipping its second Orlando Evans prospect
Twitter: @DW_SHOWTIME4
Malzahn says: “(Tony’s) teammate. 6-2, 195, a big, physical, fast guy that really feel like he’ll have a chance to be that special type player and once again Dameyune recruited him also.”

**********

3* WR Marcus Davis (Delray Beach, Fla.) | American Heritage HS | 5-10, 175
Once upon a time, Emory Blake was an underrated slot receiver prospect. Davis looks to pave the same path
Story: 3-star Marcus Davis on board
Twitter: @Marcus_davis1
Malzahn says: “He is a quarterback from Delray Beach, Florida and he is going to play like a slot receiver for us. We’ve had a lot of success with former quarterbacks. He has running back skills and he’s a really good kid, smart kid. We’re excited about him.”

**********

3* CB Kamryn Melton (Dothan, Ala.) | Dothan HS | 5-10, 170
A similar mold as Auburn rookie Jonathan Jones, perhaps a special teams contributor right away
Story: Auburn adds fifth commitment for the 2013 recruiting class
Twitter: @_NoFlyZoneMelt
Malzahn says: “I want to say this about all of the guys that hung in there with us, specifically the defensive guys, because we didn’t have great relationships. We knew a lot of the offensive guys because I was here before and some of our staff, but really appreciate Kamryn, he’s got a wonderful family and really think he’ll be a very good player for us.”

**********

3* RB Peyton Barber (Alpharetta, Ga.) | Milton HS | 5-10, 210
Flipped to Auburn from Ole Miss during the Super Bowl, making two poaches from the Rebels today
Story: Super seal: RB Peyton Barber to Auburn
Malzahn says: “He’s a guy that we started recruiting when we first got here. He was committed to another school, he got hurt his junior year and this past year has a phenomenal year and I really feel like if he hasn’t got hurt his junior year he’d be one of those top-type guys. He is a very strong, fast individual. We’re very excited about Peyton.”

**********

3* QB Nick Marshall (Pineview, Ga.) | Garden City CC (Kan.) | 6-2, 210
A major point of intrigue going into the spring. He swears the coaches have promised him a shot in the starting quarterback derby
Story: “The best athlete I’ve ever seen”: ex-Georgia CB Nick Marshall plans to sign as Auburn QB
Twitter: @NicMarshall7
Malzahn says: “He is one of three quarterbacks that we took. We felt like that was definitely a need as far as depth was concerned. He’s a great athlete. He’s one of those impact players, throws the ball extremely well, has a very strong arm, feel like he can come in here and give us a chance right of the bat.”

**********

5* DE Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga.) | Milton HS | 6-3, 251
ESPN tabs him the No. 2 overall prospect in the country. Auburn kept him on board over Clemson and Tennessee
Story: Carl Lawson tweet: “I am an Auburn Tiger”
Twitter: @CarlCarltp (protected account)
Malzahn says: “I really felt like he’s one of the keys to this class. H hung in there with us. When a lot of guys went South, or went other ways, opened stuff up, he hung in there with us and he provided the stability I really feel like on the defensive side specifically, to have the class that we did. He’s a phenomenal player, a phenomenal person. He’s an Auburn person, he loves Auburn and his family loves Auburn.”

**********

3* S Khari Harding (Edmond, Okla.) | Santa Fe HS | 6-1, 205
After committing to Arkansas, changed his mind following an official visit. DC Ellis Johnson needs more safety options
Story: Auburn snatches two verbal commits from SEC rivals, loses RB
Twitter: @5numerocinco5
Malzahn says: “A safety from Oklahoma. One of the bigger hitting safeties I’ve seen come out of high school. He’s vicious guy, we need some depth at safety. He’ll have a chance to come in and contribute early.”

**********

4* QB Jeremy Johnson (Montgomery, Ala.) | Carver HS | 6-5, 215
The centerpiece of this class; maybe not the highest-rated, but the most valuable player recruiter and face of the future
Story: Four-star quarterback Jeremy Johnson commits to Auburn for the 2013 class
Twitter: @MRSUPER6A
Malzahn says: “I’m going to say the same thing about Jeremy as I did Carl. He was kind of one of the centerpieces offensively. Me and coach Lashlee already had a relationship with him but you really hung in there with us. He helped us recruit and really provided a lot of stability on the offensive side. Once again, he loves Auburn.”

**********

4* WR Earnest Robinson (Pinson, Ala.) | Pinson Valley HS | 6-2, 200
Fielded offers from Alabama, LSU, Oregon, Florida State. Dameyune Craig was likely instrumental in keeping E-Rob’s word
Story: Four-star receiver Earnest Robinson commits to Auburn for the 2013 class
Malzahn says: “He’s been committed to us a long time. I actually recruited him when he was a sophomore and have a great relationship with him. Think the world of Earnest; he hung in there with us too during the change.”

**********

3* LB Kenny Flowers (Lilburn, Ga.) | Hutchinson CC (Kan.) | 6-2, 228
Count ‘em, the third Hutchinson alum and fifth overall commit from a Kansas junior college. Must tackle well to play
Story: Six-pack of jucos committed to Tigers
Malzahn says: “We felt like we needed some depth at linebacker that could come in immediately and help. This guy is a very physical, hard-nosed type player and coach Johnson did a great job recruiting him.”

**********

3* LB Cameron Toney (Huntsville, Ala.) | Huntsville HS | 6-2, 225
Former DC Brian VanGorder always wanted a bigger, stronger defense. Toney will help that cause
Story: Huntsville linebacker Cameron Toney commits to Auburn on A-Day
Twitter: @CToney47
Malzahn says: “He was committed before, very good kid, he hung in there with us, and I think he’ll have a chance to be a really good player.”

**********

4* QB Jason Smith (Mobile, Ala.) | McGill Toolen HS | 6-1, 180
A standout quarterback in high school, but proved he’s got the hands of a receiver at the AL-MS All-Star Classic in December
Story: Quarterback, 4-star athlete Jason Smith commits to Auburn
Twitter: @JasonQB_7
Malzahn says: “He’s electric. MVP of the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. He’s got phenomenal skills. He can do a lot of different things. We’re very excited about Jason.”

**********

4* OL Deon Mix (Batesville, Miss.) | South Panola HS | 6-4, 315
HS coach says his best football is yet to come; the only high school offensive lineman in this class so far
Malzahn says: “An offensive lineman we really just started recruiting seriously about a week ago. Coach Melvin Smith had a great relationship with him. He was the only offensive lineman we took today other than junior college. He is a big, road-grating type of offensive lineman that coach Grimes likes to have.”

**********

3* S Mackenro Alexander (Immokalee, Fla.) | Immokalee HS | 6-0, 195
Auburn couldn’t quite land the two-man brother package of Mackenro and 5-star Mackensie, who’s off to Clemson
Malzahn says: “A DB from Florida. This is a kid we feel like has very big upside. He is a tough, smart kid that can run. He’s a very good tackler we think he will definitely provide us some help in the secondary.”

**********

3* S Brandon King (Alabaster, Ala.) | Highland CC (Kan.) | 6-2, 215
If he can prove a sticky tackler, King will make it difficult for coaches to keep him on the sideline
Twitter: @_KING205
Malzahn says: “We felt like we needed some depth at safety, some guys that can come in immediately and play. He’s a very hard-nosed, physical type of player, so we’re excited about him.”

**********

5* DT Montravius Adams (Vienna, Ga.) | Dooly County HS | 6-4, 310
The surprise coup of the class, pairs with Lawson to make a beastly defensive front of the future
Story: Adams down to final four
Malzahn says: “I think this is going to be is my eighth year to coach college – I don’t know if I’ve seen a bigger, athletic guy than him. I really feel like the sky’s the limit with him. Coach Rodney Garner had a great relationship with him, that really helped get him here. He’s a very good person with a great family.”

**********

3* K Daniel Carlson (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Classical Academy | 6-5, 195
ESPN’s top-ranked kicker in the class, should take over for Cody Parkey in 2014
Story: Tigers land second top-flight kicker for the 2013 class in Daniel Carlson
Malzahn says: “He hung in there with us through two special teams coaches. Really appreciate him doing that. He’s got a very big leg, and he’ll be a very good kicker for us.”

**********

4* RB Johnathan Ford (New Hope, Ala.) | New Hope HS | 5-11, 190
All of a sudden, Auburn is positively LOADED at running back
Twitter: @rudythebeast5
Malzahn says: “Very good running back. He’s got a lot of different skills. He’s not only a good runner, but he can catch the ball out of the backfield, and he loves Auburn. His family loves Auburn, so we’re very excited to have him.”

February 3, 2013

THEN AND NOW: How Auburn’s Class of 2013 recruits have evolved from Gene to Gus

BY AARON BRENNER
abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. – In the current landscape of college football recruiting, a healthy percentage of high school seniors will flip enough to make a gymnast blush.

Those insecurities are magnified even more when brand-new coaching faces enter the fray, with little choice but to convince the existing verbal commits to remember why they picked the school.

“Yeah, I think anytime a completely new staff comes in, you’re going to play catch-up,” first-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said Jan. 19. “But our coaching staff’s done a great job of identifying the guys and really recruiting them hard, so I’m very pleased with our staff.”

As soon as Gene Chizik, Malzahn’s predecessor and former boss, was fired Nov. 25, some pledges immediately bolted. Some took their time to check out the new staff, then decided to evaluate their options. Some stuck around through thick and thin (or Gene and Gus.)

How did the class look 10 weeks ago, compared to today? Have a look:

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Foster

THEN AND NOW

How Auburn’s class looked the morning of Nov. 25 (current commits in bold):

ESPN.com’s national class ranking: No. 7

5* DE Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga.)
4* WR Earnest Robinson (Pinson, Ala.)
4* LB Cameron Toney (Huntsville, Ala.)
4* QB Jeremy Johnson (Montgomery, Ala.)
4* DE Tashawn Bower (Somerville, N.J.)
4* ATH Jason Smith (Mobile, Ala.)
4* WR Ja’Quay Williams (Tyrone, Ga.)
4* LB Trey Johnson (Lawrenceville, Ga.)
4* LB Reuben Foster (Auburn, Ala.)
4* DT Dee Liner (Muscle Shoals, Ala.)
4* RB Jordan Wilkins (Cordova, Tenn.)
3* P Jimmy Hutchinson (Kennesaw, Ga.)
3* CB Kamryn Melton (Dothan, Ala.)
3* K Daniel Carlson (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
3* CB Jahmere Irvin-Sills (Elkton, Md.)
3* LB Jarrad Davis (Kingsland, Ga.)
3* WR Lemond Johnson (Cooper City, Fla.)
3* TE Arshad Jackson (Lovejoy, Ga.)

*****************

Courtesy Allan Hancock College

How Auburn’s class looks the morning of Feb. 3 (new commits in bold):

ESPN.com’s national class ranking: No. 15

5* DE Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga.)
4* WR Earnest Robinson (Pinson, Ala.)
4* LB Cameron Toney (Huntsville, Ala.)
4* QB Jeremy Johnson (Montgomery, Ala.)
4* DE Tashawn Bower (Somerville, N.J.)
4* ATH Jason Smith (Mobile, Ala.)
4* juco RB Cameron Artis-Payne (Harrisburg, Pa.)
4* juco DT Ben Bradley (Norcross, Ga.)
4* juco LB Brandon King (Alabaster, Ala.)
4* juco QB Nick Marshall (Pineview, Ga.)
4* WR Tony Stevens (Orlando, Fla.)
4* WR Dominic Walker (Orlando, Fla.)
3* P Jimmy Hutchinson (Kennesaw, Ga.)
3* CB Kamryn Melton (Dothan, Ala.)
3* K Daniel Carlson (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
3* juco OG Devonte Danzey (Tampa, Fla.)
3* S Khari Harding (Edmond, Okla.)
3* juco LB Kenny Flowers (Lilburn, Ga.)
3* WR Marcus Davis (Delray Beach, Fla.)

*****************

Measurements, ratings from ESPNRecruiting

Commit date history from 247Sports.com

CHIZIK VERBALS WHO DECOMMITTED (post-firing)

4* WR Ja’Quay Williams (Tyrone, Ga.)
Fork Union Military Academy
6-3, 195
Commit date: June 1, 2012
Decommit date: Nov. 25
Signed with Texas A&M (Dec. 19)
Note: Adds to a top-flight WR class, giving Heisman winner Johnny Manziel more weapons

4* LB Trey Johnson (Lawrenceville, Ga.)
Central Gwinnett HS
6-1, 215
Commit date: Aug. 15, 2011
Decommit date: Nov. 27
Committed to Ohio State (Jan. 4)
Note: Made late visit to Tennessee last weekend, but still strong to Buckeyes

4* LB Reuben Foster (Auburn, Ala.)
Auburn HS
6-2, 242
Commit date: July 12, 2012
Decommit date: Dec. 7
Announces decision Monday, still considering Auburn
Note: Original Alabama pledge, AU-tattooed star wants to stay close to home with mom and daughter. Former Troup County player

3* CB Jahmere Irvin-Sills (Elkton, Md.)
Eastern Christian Academy
5-9, 173
Commit date: June 1, 2012
Decommit date: Dec. 10
Undecided, no set announcement date
Note: In 2010-11, attended Red Lion Christian (Bear, Del.), same academy as Auburn DT Angelo Blackson

3* LB Jarrad Davis (Kingsland, Ga.)
Camden County HS
6-1, 210
Commit date: April 14, 2012
Decommit date: Dec. 15
Committed to Florida (Dec. 15)
Note: Became fourth player with Georgia ties to decommit from Tigers in three weeks

3* WR Lemond Johnson (Cooper City, Fla.)
Cooper City HS
6-0, 190
Commit date: June 13, 2012
Decommit date: Dec. 16
Signed with Tennessee (Dec. 16)
Note: Followed ex-Auburn DB coach Willie Martinez to Vols, enrolled for spring

3* TE Arshad Jackson (Lovejoy, Ga.)
Lovejoy HS
6-6, 235
Commit date: May 26, 2012
Decommit date: Dec. 18
Announces decision Wednesday, not considering Auburn
Note: Auburn’s tallest skill player in 2012, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, was 6-5

4* DT Dee Liner (Muscle Shoals, Ala.)
Muscle Shoals HS
6-3, 275
Commit date: June 11, 2011
Decommit date: Jan. 14
Announces decision Wednesday, not considering Auburn
Note: Picked Tigers at end of sophomore year, now appears headed to Alabama

4* RB Jordan Wilkins (Cordova, Tenn.)
St. Benedict School
6-2, 205
Commit date: July 18, 2012
Decommit date: Jan. 20
Committed to Ole Miss (Feb. 2)
Note: His late departure left Tigers coaches scrambling to woo more tailbacks

CHIZIK VERBALS WHO STAYED

3* P Jimmy Hutchinson (Kennesaw, Ga.)
Harrison HS
6-2, 175
Commit date: Feb. 21, 2012
Note: Named a first-team All-American by 247Sports.com, he should take over for Steven Clark in 2014

3* CB Kamryn Melton (Dothan, Ala.)
Dothan HS
5-10, 170
Commit date: Feb. 25, 2012
Note: A similar mold as Auburn rookie Jonathan Jones, perhaps a special teams contributor right away

4* WR Earnest Robinson (Pinson, Ala.)
Pinson Valley HS
6-2, 200
Commit date: Feb. 25, 2012
Note: Fielded offers from Alabama, LSU, Oregon, Florida State. Dameyune Craig was likely instrumental in keeping E-Rob’s word 

5* DE Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga.)
Milton HS
6-3, 251
Commit date: Mar. 24, 2012
Note: ESPN tabs him the No. 2 overall prospect in the country. Auburn’s projected to keep him on board over Clemson and Tennessee

4* LB Cameron Toney (Huntsville, Ala.)
Huntsville HS
6-2, 225
Commit date: Apr. 14, 2012
Note: Former DC Brian VanGorder always wanted a bigger, stronger defense. Toney will help that cause 

4* QB Jeremy Johnson (Montgomery, Ala.)
Carver HS
6-5, 215
Commit date: May 20, 2012
Note: The centerpiece of this class; maybe not the highest-rated, but the most valuable player recruiter and face of the future

4* DE Tashawn Bower (Somerville, N.J.)
Immaculata HS
6-5, 241
Commit date: June 12, 2012
Note: Bower would bolster a potentially star-studded class of defensive ends, become Auburn’s first Jersey signee in two decades 

3* K Daniel Carlson (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Classical Academy
6-5, 195
Commit date: July 1, 2012
Note: ESPN’s top-ranked kicker in the class, should take over for Cody Parkey in 2014

4* ATH Jason Smith (Mobile, Ala.)
McGill Toolen HS
6-1, 180
Commit date: July 9, 2012
Note: A standout quarterback in high school, but proved he’s got the hands of a receiver at the AL-MS All-Star Classic in December

MALZAHN COMMITS

SIGNED

4* RB Cameron Artis-Payne (Harrisburg, Pa.)
Allan Hancock CC (Calif.)
5-11, 215
Sign date: Dec. 19
Note: The No. 1 juco back in the country, per 247Sports, rushed for 2,048 yards and 25 TDs in 10 games last fall. Ideal Tre Mason complement

3* OG Devonte Danzey (Tampa, Fla.)
Hutchinson CC (Kan.)
6-3, 303
Sign date: Dec. 25
Note: The No. 1 juco guard in the country, per 247Sports, could compete right away for one open spot along the Tigers’ line

4* DT Ben Bradley (Norcross, Ga.)
Hutchinson CC (Kan.)
6-3, 310
Sign date: Jan. 8
Note: Followed Danzey to the Plains, where both are already enrolled and prepping for spring practice

EXPECTED TO SIGN WEDNESDAY

4* LB Brandon King (Alabaster, Ala.)
Highland CC (Kan.)
6-2, 215
Commit date: Jan. 4
Note: If he can prove a sticky tackler, King will make it difficult for coaches to keep him on the sideline

4* QB Nick Marshall (Pineview, Ga.)
Garden City CC (Kan.)
6-2, 210
Commit date: Jan. 13
Note: A major point of intrigue going into the spring. He swears the coaches have promised him a shot in the starting quarterback derby 

3* S Khari Harding (Edmond, Okla.)
Santa Fe HS
6-1, 205
Commit date: Jan. 20
Note: After committing to Arkansas, changed his mind following an official visit. DC Ellis Johnson needs more safety options

4* WR Tony Stevens (Orlando, Fla.)
Evans HS
6-4, 184
Commit date: Jan. 20
Note: Receptions by Auburn receivers taller than 6-2 in 2012; one, by 6-3 Jaylon Denson. Previously a Florida State and Texas A&M verbal

4* WR Dominic Walker (Orlando, Fla.)
Evans HS
6-2, 194
Commit date: Jan. 25
Note: Flipping Stevens paved the way to pair him with Walker, giving the Tigers’ pass-catchers some much-needed depth

3* LB Kenny Flowers (Lilburn, Ga.)
Hutchinson CC (Kan.)
6-2, 228
Commit date: Jan. 25
Note: Count ‘em, the third Hutchinson alum and fifth overall commit from a Kansas junior college. Like King, must tackle well to play

3* WR Marcus Davis (Delray Beach, Fla.)
American Heritage HS
5-10, 175
Commit date: Jan. 27
Note: Once upon a time, Emory Blake was an under-the-radar slot receiver prospect. Davis looks to pave the same path

December 15, 2012

Auburn verbal commits, Central players/coach soak in Alabama all-star football victory

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama all-star linebacker Reuben Foster flattened Mississippi all-star tailback Darrell Robinson on the first play from scrimmage.

The tone was set.

A strong-armed, chippy all-star game resulted in Alabama’s 21-16 victory, the state’s fifth consecutive conquest of its neighboring rival Saturday at Cramton Bowl.

Rushing yards were tough to come by, but not penalty yards – the officiating crew parlayed a bevy of dead-ball personal fouls and tough-to-say pass interference calls into flagging the two teams 29 times for a combined 242 yards.

In the end, Alabama made a 21-0 lead stand up. Kicker Thomas Hamlin booted three second-quarter field goals – including one from 51 yards out – to open Alabama’s lead, which was shaved to five by a furious Mississippi fourth-quarter rally complete with a pair of 40-yard scoring passes.

Alabama’s powerful defense was ruled by Foster – a blue-chip prospect and previous commit to Auburn and Alabama – along with Auburn verbal commits Dee Liner and Kamryn Melton and Alabama commits Darius Paige and ArDarius Stewart.

“We wanted the shutout,” Liner said, “but you know, it’s an all-star game. People are gonna score.”

College officials in attendance during this recruiting period included Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and quality control coach Al Pogue, Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Tennessee cornerbacks coach Tommy Thigpen and coaches from Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.

Both teams averaged 2.2 yards per carry, in an all-star event hotly battled in the trenches.

The game MVPs were Alabama’s Jason Smith – the Auburn-bound receiver caught six passes for 134 yards – and Mississippi defensive end Chris Jones, a Mississippi State commit who racked up eight tackles, including three for a loss.

Smith, a high school quarterback recruited as an all-around athlete, made an impressive one-handed catch to get Alabama in the red zone.

“I know back at McGill, I used to get mad if guys drifted on their routes, so I tried to tweak it and make everything right,” Smith said.

Central-Phenix City was represented by offensive lineman Cameron Fraser, linebacker Derek King and head coach Woodrow Lowe.

Fraser, a South Florida recruit, played most the game at right tackle, coaxing Mississippi’s Dylan Bradley into a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for shoving well after the whistle.

“It did, definitely,” said Fraser, asked if the game got more physical as it went along. “I know a bunch of the Mississippi boys, so they were jawing. Everything was all right.”

King, who is currently undecided on his college plans, rotated in early and had two assisted tackles, one for a loss.

“It was a great feeling,” King said. “Everything was going right.”

Lowe oversaw the Alabama receivers, and Smith wasn’t the only standout. Clark Quisenberry, Nate Andrews and Cameron Echols-Luper also made impressive catches in space to help quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson (Auburn) and Nick Mullens move the offense along.

“I do know there was some real growth going on, and that’s a good thing,” Lowe said. “I’ve been to quite a few of these all-star games – the Pro Bowl and the Senior Bowl. It is very, very competitive, and you’re there for a purpose. You’ve got to remember that.”

With the high school careers winding down for these football players – and the anticipation for National Signing Day leading into Feb. 6 heating up – Lowe had words of encouragement for all seniors during this transition time.

“This week, the theme has been your development. We tell the kids you’ve got to make the next step in everything,” Lowe said. “You’re still in high school, and you need to finish this year, first with grades.

“We know you’ve got some friends in high school, but you’re going to have to leave most of them behind because there’s change coming and you’ve got to keep growing. These are the dynamics we try to prepare them for.”