By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Rodney Garner clapped his hands, then high-fived and hugged Travis Williams in Auburn's conference room. Soon, Gus Malzahn arrived from the other end of the table to join his assistants in the celebration.
A Big Cat would be joining the Tigers.
Markarviest "Big Cat" Bryant closed out Auburn's 2017 recruiting class on Wednesday. A 6-4, 225-pound defensive end from Crisp County High School in Cordele, Ga., Bryant picked Auburn on signing day.
"That was the icing on the cake to this class," Malzahn said. "A good end to a good day. Big Cat's a guy that we've circled in. We've recruited for for a long time. He's a pass-rushing machine." Bryant's letter of intent arrived at 11:24 a.m., 3 hours and 20 minutes after offensive lineman Calvin Ashley began the parades of faxes at 7:04 a.m.
"Calvin is a guy we feel can come in immediately and have a chance to compete," Malzahn said. "Really reminds me a lot of Greg Robinson when Greg was this age. He stayed extremely loyal to us. He's a five-star guy. We really appreciate him and really look forward to coaching him."
Auburn's 2017 class features 23 signees, including seven who enrolled early.
Of the early enrollees, quarterback Jarrett Stidham, a junior college transfer who started at Baylor in 2015 before sitting out in 2016, is already well known to Auburn fans.
"I think he's got a chance to be a very good football player," Malzahn said. "He's coming in to compete for the starting job."
Other than the late-morning buzz from Big Cat, Auburn's signing day played out according to script, just the way the head coach likes it.
"Once again, there wasn't a lot of drama," Malzahn said. "Everything went pretty much as planned today, which was a blessing."
Malzahn focused on in-state prospects and neighboring states to fill Auburn's needs, signing 10 players from Alabama, six from Georgia and four from Florida.
"Once again, the state of Alabama was a priority for us," Malzahn said. "Those are the three states that we make our living in."
Linebacker T.D. Moultry from Jackson-Olin in Birmingham, earned praise from Auburn's coach.
"He's one of the best players, if not the best player in the state," Malzahn said. "He's a five-star guy. He took no other visits. He was extremely loyal to us. He helped us recruit. He's got a unique skill set. He's got an explosiveness that very few have. We think he can come in here and help right off the bat."
While many of the new Tigers have been committed for more than a year, a few, like Big Cat, defensive lineman Tyrone Truesdell and JaTarvious Whitlow from nearby Lafayette joined the program late in the recruiting cycle.
"He's a guy who's been on my mind for a while," Malzahn said, mentioning Whitlow's performance in Auburn's summer camp. "When (offensive coordinator) Chip (Lindsey) got here, we pulled up the film again, and just felt like we needed him to be a part of our offense. We're going to play him at wide receiver. He just fit."
Auburn will start spring practice Feb. 28. Many of the new signees will arrive in May soon after graduating from high school, ready to embark on their Auburn careers.
"Very athletic. A lot of character," Malzahn said. "Academics is very important to them, and so I'm very excited about this. Our staff did a super job developing relationships, identifying talented kids that have great character. We've got guys who can really come in here and help us right off the bat."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer