Feb. 5, 2014
Auburn's Gus Malzahn celebrates at the head of the table with his coaching staff in the Tigers' war room Wednesday (Lauren Barnard photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Coach Gus Malzahn talked Wednesday of the loyalty his signees showed Auburn during the recruiting process.
But it was really a two-way street.
Auburn honored the commitments of two players who got hurt and missed their senior seasons; and Malzahn welcomed the trust his other committed players showed in the Tigers. AuburnSports.com calculates only three of Auburn's first 21 commitments took an official visit to another school. The final tally: Only five of Auburn's 23 signees visited somebody but the Tigers.
Seventeen of Auburn's signees are from either Alabama or Georgia. Thirteen signees play defense. Two are linebackers. Six play in the defensive line. Two are running backs. One is a quarterback. Three are wide receivers.
Positions were filled strategically.
"I'm proud of our staff. They worked extremely hard to develop a relationship, and we really felt like they worked hard to bring the right-type guys for Auburn… hard-nosed, high-character, very talented young men," Malzahn said. "And one of the big things for me, also, is I really appreciate the loyalty of our commitments. In this day and time, that's very rare. We had guys that were committed to us, even before the season, that could have taken other trips, and they chose to stay very loyal, to help us recruit. I'm just very excited about that, and that will go a long way in the future."
Auburn had a good final recruiting day. The Tigers didn't lose any commitments and landed one of the top offensive linemen in the country in Braden Smith. Auburn coaches cheered that televised decision, and J.B. Grimes, the assistant who staged a remarkable rally to get him after Greg Robinson said he was leaving for the NFL, received handshakes and pats on the back from his fellow coaches.
The day, for the most part, was par for the course because of the loyalty Malzahn spoke about.
Five-star linebacker Tre' Williams, who committed to Auburn last May, never wavered. Never pretend he would.
"We really felt like he was the top linebacker in the class, a guy that has been with us, committed to us, had opportunities to go anywhere he wanted, he chose to stay loyal," Malzahn said. "He was really a big key to this signing class and just a great person. He's got great potential and he'll make an immediate impact."
Same for five-star running back Roc Thomas.
"He was the top running back on our guys' board, our offensive staff identified him early, they recruited him extremely hard. Once again, a key to this class, he was very loyal to us, could have went anywhere and chose to not. He stayed with us, we really feel like he's got the ability to come in immediately and make a huge impact," Malzahn said.
Malzahn said his second year of recruiting as Auburn's head coach was easier than the first when he came in two months before signing day.
"It helped from a standpoint that we were able to develop relationships…" Malzahn said. He spoke of character and toughness. "We really feel like we attract the right type of people over a long period of time if we can develop relationships and our coaches did an outstanding job with that. It’s very exciting for the future. The character of this group is very high."
Auburn stayed true, too. H-Back Jakell Mitchell committed last July, tore his ACL, and the Tigers didn't care. Same for linebacker Deshaun Davis tore his ACL two days after committing.
On Mitchell, Malzahn said, "when he was a junior he hurt his knee and we really feel like the sky is the limit for this guy and he's got great potential.
On Davis, he said, "if he had played this year he would have been very highly recruited. We really feel great about him and he did a lot of great things for us in the recruiting end of it."
Malzahn talked about all his recruits during his signing day press conference. And the ones he didn't sign?
"We focus on the guys that are here, and we've got one of the best classes in college football, not only talent-wise, but all the things that go with it," Malzahn said. "And we're coming off a year that we came 13 seconds short of winning the national championship. We've got a lot of guys coming back and when you add that to this group coming in, the future is very bright and we're going to win a lot of games."
Video: Gus Malzahn celebrates, talks about signing day...
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine