Coach Gus Malzahn talks with ESPNU on Signing Day
Feb. 6, 2013
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn
“It’s been a great day. I’m very excited about this class. We’ve signed 23 so far in this class. I really feel like we filled our needs. We tried to address our immediate needs, and I really feel like that we accomplished that.
“I’d really like to complement our coaching staff. They did a wonderful job in a short period of time. With a new staff coming in, we had a lot of obstacles as far as trying to develop relationships and a lot of different things. Any time you come in and you don’t retain anybody from the previous staff and you have a lot of commitments, there are a lot of things that go with that, and I’m extremely excited and pleased with our staff. I really appreciate the work of our support staff and administration, especially (Auburn Director of Athletics) Jay Jacobs allowing us to have the things we need to do to recruit. As a matter of fact, he even helped us recruit on some Saturdays, which I really feel like made a huge difference. At this time, I’d like to go over each one of our signees and just briefly say a little bit about them, and then I’ll open it up for questions afterward.
“First, defensive end Elijah Daniel. He was our first commit of the day. Pass rushing was one of our big needs, and this guy can really do it. He had a relationship with (associate head coach) Rodney Garner that goes way back, and he signed this morning. We’re tickled to death to have him.
“Our second of the day was Tony Stevens, a big, tall wide receiver. He has tremendous skills. He’s a kick returner. (Co-offensive coordinator) Dameyune Craig did a wonderful job with him; they had a previous relationship. He has a chance to be an impact player.
“Dominic Walker, his teammate, is 6-2, 195 -- a big, physical, fast guy, and I really feel like he’ll have a chance to be that special type player. Dameyune recruited him also.
“Marcus Davis is a quarterback from Delray Beach, Fla., 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. He’s a really good kid, a smart kid. We’re excited about him.
“Kamryn Melton is a defensive back from Dothan (Ala.). 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 previous relationships -- we knew a lot of the offensive guys because I was here before and some of our staff -- but I really appreciate Kamryn. He has a wonderful family, and I really think he’ll be a very good player for us.
“Running back Peyton Barber is a guy that we started recruiting when we first got here. He was committed to another school, and he got hurt his junior year. This past year, he had a phenomenal year. I really feel like if he hadn’t gotten hurt his junior year, he’d be one of those top-ranked guys. He is a very strong, fast individual. We’re very excited about Peyton.
“Nick Marshall is a quarterback, and our first one that came in today from junior college. He is one of three quarterbacks that we took; we felt like that was definitely a need as far as depth is concerned. He’s a great athlete. He’s one of those impact players who throws the ball extremely well and has a very strong arm. We feel like he could come in here and give us a chance right off the bat.
“Carl Lawson. I’m going to say this about Carl Lawson. I feel like he is one of the keys to this class. He hung in there with us when a lot of guys went south, went other ways, opened stuff up -- he hung in there with us. 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. He’s a phenomenal person. He is an Auburn person. He loves Auburn, and his family loves Auburn. I’m very excited to have him on board.
“Khari Harding, a safety from Oklahoma, is one of the bigger hitting safeties I’ve seen come out of high school. He’s a vicious guy. We need some depth at safety, and he’ll have a chance to come in and contribute early.
“Quarterback-wise, Jeremy Johnson, 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 (Rhett) Lashlee already had a relationship with him, but he really hung in there with us and helped us recruit and really provided a lot of stability on the offensive side. Once again, he loves Auburn.
“Our next signee that came in this morning was Earnest Robinson, a wide receiver that’s been committed to us a long time. I actually recruited him when he was a sophomore. I have a great relationship with him. I think the world of Earnest. He hung in there with us, too, during the change.
“Kenny Flowers at linebacker -- 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 (Ellis) Johnson did a great job recruiting him.
“Cameron Toney is another inside linebacker, from Huntsville (Ala.). He was committed before, a very good kid. He hung in there with us, and I think he’ll have a chance to be a really good player.
“Jason Smith, a quarterback out of Mobile -- he’s electric. I think he was the MVP of the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game. He just has phenomenal skills. He can do a lot of different things. We’re very excited about Jason.
“Deon Mix is an offensive lineman that really, we just started seriously recruiting about a week ago. Coach Melvin Smith had a great relationship with him. He is the only offensive lineman we took today, other than the junior college (players) that I’ll talk about here in just a minute. He is a big road-grader type offensive lineman that Coach (J.B.) Grimes likes to have.
“Mackenro Alexander is a (defensive back) from Florida. This is a kid that we feel has a very big upside. He is a tough, smart kid that can run, and he’s a very good tackler. We think that he will definitely provide some depth in the secondary.
“Brandon King is a defensive back/safety from junior college. Once again, we felt like we needed some depth at safety and some guys that could immediately play. He’s a very hard-nosed, physical type player, so we are very excited about him.
“Montravius Adams is a defensive tackle. I think this is going to be my eighth year to coach college, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a bigger, more athletic guy than him. I really feel like the sky is 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.
“Daniel Carlson, who is our kicker from Colorado Springs, Colorado. He hung in there with us through two special teams coaches. We really appreciate him doing that. He’s got a very big leg, and he’ll be a very good kicker for us.
“Johnathan Ford just signed with us this morning. He’s a very good running back. He has a lot of different skills. He’s not only a good runner, but he can catch the ball in the backfield, and he loves Auburn. His family loves Auburn, so we’re very excited to have him.
“Our January enrollees: Cameron Artis-Payne is a big physical runner. I really think he’s going to provide some very good depth, and I think he’s going to be a very good player for us.
“Ben Bradley; we needed depth up front. This guy is very athletic and very strong.
“Then with Devonte Danzey, we needed some help at center and at guard, and I feel like he’ll have a chance to help us immediately.
“Overall, I feel very good about this class, especially in a short period. Like I said earlier, we addressed our needs and I’m very pleased.”
On the defensive linemen… “Y’all know in this league you win on the offensive and defensive lines, and the defensive line was the focus. The three guys we have we feel like are three of the best in the entire country. Coach (Rodney) Garner is a great coach, and he’s going to have three guys that will have the chance to help us immediately.”
On signing Montravius Adams… “It was a great feeling when he put on that Auburn hat. It was a special feeling. Coach (Rodney) Garner has had a relationship with him a long time, and they’re extremely close. Everyone in the country was wanting him. He got back to Auburn, because he loved Auburn before, but he developed a relationship with the new staff, with Rodney, and when we came back on him, he still felt the same way. That was a very exciting moment this morning.”
On the quarterback signees and if they may play other positions… “We’re going to give all three of those guys a shot at quarterback. They’re all very talented at that position. As y’all have seen in the past, the dual type threat guys that can do a lot of different things keep plays alive and can be very successful with what we do.”
On more potential signees… “It depends on who they would be, but there could be a couple more in the near future.”
On the outcome of signing day… “When we went to bed last night, I would say there’s very little change from then. There was some anxiety. Any time you’re coming into this thing four or five weeks in, and you don’t have those foundation relationships then stuff can happen, but our coaching staff did a wonderful job developing those relationships in a short period of time. It pretty much went as planned today when we got up.”
On how much sleep he got last night… “I’m thinking 2 hours, but sometimes I work best when I don’t have much sleep. I was extremely excited. We’ve been gearing up for this day, and I’m going to bet our staff didn’t get much sleep either.”
On the impact of defensive players and what it will allow him to do offensively… “Up front, they’re going to have a chance to play immediately. Obviously they have to earn that. At the safety position, we feel like those guys will have a chance on defense to do that. Any time you have depth in all positions on defense, it definitely helps.”
On how he went about identifying Auburn’s positions of need… “We hired our defensive staff first, and we evaluated Ellis Johnson’s defense, and we tried to evaluate our own players first and then evaluate the commitments and then open the door for our needs; we did that on a very fast turnaround. Offensively, the unique thing is that I was here for three years previously, and we recruited specifically for positions, so we kind of knew what we were looking for, and a lot of the guys that were committed we actually recruited before, but the main thing was probably defensively.”
On how he feels they addressed their needs, particularly on the defensive line… “I think our whole staff is excited, and I know from the head coach’s standpoint, defensive linemen, especially talented defensive linemen like these three we got -- how they can all rush the passer and they can all play run defense and they are extremely talented -- I know Coach (Rodney) Garner is very excited.”
On signing six junior college players… “We had some needs that we had to address. This will not be the norm. I am not saying we will not recruit junior colleges every year, but I felt like we had to address some needs, and we had to have some players that we feel like are physically ready to play next year, so that was the plan.”
On how much he talked to former head coach Gene Chizik during the recruiting process... “I talked to him a few times. It wasn’t always about recruiting. It was just checking on him and seeing how he was doing.”
On the importance of getting Johnathan Ford and Peyton Barber late in the recruiting process… “We definitely wanted two running backs, and we felt pretty good about Johnathan for a while. It got interesting there in the middle of it, but he loves Auburn, and we really think he is going to be a phenomenal running back. Peyton Barber was a fight to the finish, but once he came on his official visit, he loves Auburn, too. Those two guys are going to have the chance to help be on the field and provide depth next year.”
Is Ford someone he sees as a slot receiver, an every-down back or a guy who can do both… “I think both of those guys are true running backs, and I think they have all the skills that it is going to take to be a running back in this conference and this offense.”
On the chance of the three defensive linemen Auburn signed playing early… “They’re going to have a very good chance to. Like I said, we have to have pass rushers to put pressure on the quarterback without blitzing. I feel like the defensive ends can definitely do that.”
On Auburn’s wide receiver class… “I believe that we only had six receivers on scholarship, and so we knew we had some holes there, and we needed to provide some depth. Coach (Dameyune) Craig did a very good job of recruiting in a very short time. I think we will have a chance to look back in the future and find this is a very talented receiving group. Three of the guys are pure receivers.”
On Jeremy Johnson possibly playing basketball and football... “I kind of left that up to him, but he is going to concentrate on football, and that will be his first priority. I know his goal is to be the starting quarterback here and what it takes to be the starting quarterback in college, especially in this league, it takes a lot of focus. But he is a very good basketball player.”
On existing players having an impact on recruiting from having relationships with Malzahn... “I think it helped. There was a point of reference for these recruits coming in to ask our current players about me, about some of our staff. I think that definitely helped.”
On reminding recruits of hard work and focus after the hype of signing day... “I think it starts today. The recruiting part of it’s over, and now the preparation time begins -- to get them prepared not only in the classroom, to get them prepared physically with working out, and the expectations on the offense and defense.”
Did Auburn give four-year scholarships like it did last season... “We did the same thing this year.”
On Elijah Daniel... “Coach (Rodney) Garner had a relationship with him for a long time. We knew that we were in need of defensive ends, and Coach Garner got him here this past weekend. We’ve known about him for a while. He can flat-out rush the passer.”
Do hard-nosed, physical players fit Malzahn’s system and mentality... “That is one thing our staff looked for: physical, hard-nosed football players. I told our staff the very first staff meeting we had, we have to find football players. They’re going to be Auburn-type, tough, hard-nosed, blue collar guys. I really feel like for the most part we did that today.”
Is he relieved that signing day is over because of the short time frame and transition... “It’s probably more excitement that it’s here. When you look at these players and the faxes come across and the reality is that they’re going to play for us, I’m very excited because we got some guys that really fit what we’re doing, that we feel like will have a chance to be very good football players.”
On recruiting Peyton Barber... “We knew we needed running backs, and so what we did is we started out and we started looking at the top running backs in the country, and we put them all up on film, and he stood out. Early in the process, we called him, offered him a scholarship and we recruited him and we showed him that we wanted him badly. Coach (Tim) Horton did an excellent job with him along with Coach (Rhett) Lashlee. It wasn’t easy. He had been committed a long time. At the end of the day, he loved Auburn and really wanted to play here.”
On his first year of recruiting as an SEC head coach... “I’ve been in this conference as a coordinator before, so I kind of know what to expect, but from a head coach’s standpoint, you worry about the defense and the special teams and offense and everything that goes with that. Like I said earlier, the fact that we didn’t have a full year to recruit against a lot of these guys that had a full year to recruit and get the players signed that we did, I’m just very pleased and tickled to death with our staff.”
On recruiting for the hybrid safety/linebacker position... “The safety position gives us some versatility where they could play a high safety or roll down. It just depends on the down and distance that Coach (Ellis) Johnson would like to utilize those guys in.”
Did he have the opportunity to look ahead in the recruiting process... “We tried to balance some of it. You can’t get too far behind. We have been working on 2014 and some 2015, but the majority of our energy has been put in this class, as it well should be within a short period.”
Was moving quickly to replace a coaching staff vacancy critical to keeping a solid signing class… “I think so. Any time you lose your running backs and special teams coach two weeks before signing day, that definitely is a concern, but the great thing about it is that Coach (Tim) Horton is one of the best running back coaches in all of college football. It was a natural fit. Scott Fountain, I tried to hire as my special teams coach at Arkansas State, and he chose to stay here, so I know a lot about those two guys, and I feel very comfortable. It wasn’t a tough decision once it came about.”
Was he surprised Mackensie Alexander did not sign with Auburn along with his twin brother, Mackenro... “We recruited both of those individuals differently. They’re both very good football players, and to be honest with you, we treated him like we would anybody else. I’m not going to say we’re surprised, but we recruited him the same way.”
On having signed three players (Ben Bradley, Devonte Danzey and Kenny Flowers) from Hutchinson Community College and Malzahn’s familiarity with that program… “I’m familiar with the standpoint that when I was with Arkansas State, I knew a lot about those guys and the fact that they’re very talented and other big-time schools were already recruiting them. We brought them on campus, and we really feel like all of those guys can help immediately.”
On thinking about NCAA recruiting rule changes… “I’ve been focused just on this signing class. When I wake up tomorrow, I’ll start thinking that way.”
On a recruit leaving early during his last weekend visit… “All I’m going to talk about are the players that signed with us, and we’re tickled to death to have them.”