Feb. 7, 2014
Coaching great running backs is nothing new for Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton. At Arkansas, Horton was one of just two coaches in the nation to coach four different 1,000-yard rushers from 2007-10. Darren McFadden and Felix Jones earned All-America honors. Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis earned All-SEC honors. Peyton Hillis went on to a productive NFL career.
And in 2013, Horton coached Auburn’s Tre Mason to a record-breaking junior season that included 1816 rushing yards and 23 rushing touchdowns. Mason has gone on to prepare for the NFL draft, but Horton says he’s excited about who is on campus and who is coming.
“I’ve had some good ones,” Horton said. “I really have. Just this last week I was recruiting and had dinner with a couple of them that are playing pro football. The part I’ve enjoyed more than anything is just those relationships. I talked with Tre yesterday, just about how he’s doing and how he’s progressing and the next step in his career.
In the spring, seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant and redshirt freshman Peyton Barber will compete at tailback. It is uncertain whether Jonathan Ford will return to running back or remain at cornerback.
In preseason camp, that group will be joined by freshmen Roc Thomas and Kamryn Pettway.
“I’m looking forward to this next group and the relationships we’ll have with those guys,” Horton said.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn made it clear from the time he arrived that Auburn’s recruiting efforts would be concentrated on Alabama and Georgia. He’s been as good as his word. Auburn signed eight players from Alabama and nine from Georgia.
History says Auburn is at its best when drawing heavily on its traditional recruiting area. Heisman Trophy winners Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson, Outland winner Zeke Smith, Thorpe winner Carlos Rogers and Lombardi winner Nick Fairley are Alabamians. Heisman winner Cam Newton and Outland/Lombardi winner Tracy Rocker are from Georgia.
For those who have asked, moving Auburn’s game at Kansas State to Thursday night was Kansas State’s call as the home team. Malzahn, however, was not opposed. With an open date the week before, playing on Thursday will give Auburn two extra days to prepare for LSU.
Auburn’s run to the national championship game didn’t have as much impact on the signing class of 2014 as it will on the classes to come, Auburn coaches say. Most of the class that signed Wednesday was in the fold before Auburn became the biggest college football of 2013.
“No question now, as we go out recruiting the 2015 and 2016 classes, when you walk into a school with the AU on your chest everybody is excited,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “An offer to AU means more than from some schools. We are getting a great reception now, and I think that is largely due to the season.”
Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes said the difference on the recruiting trail is striking.
“You go through a year like we had and Auburn becomes Auburn again, where you can go in and legitimately find out from the top players in the country if there is an interest or not,” Grimes said. “You have an opportunity to get your foot in the door with some really good football players. Early on, it wasn’t that way. We had a lot to overcome. Through the grace of the Good Lord and good players, we were able to do it.”
Left tackle Greg Robinson’s decision to leave after his redshirt sophomore season to enter the NFL draft has been validated. He is projected to go as high as No. 2 in the NFL draft.
Defensive end Dee Ford is also projected by some to be a first-rounder, and that’s a tribute to his determination and work ethic. Ford weighed 190 pounds when he arrived at Auburn in the summer of 2009.
Robinson and Ford will be joined by cornerback Chris Davis, running back Tre Mason and punter Steven Clark in the NFL Scouting Combine. Fullback Jay Prosch and kicker Cody Parkey were, no doubt, disappointed to not be invited. They’ll have their chances to impress scouts on Auburn’s pro day.
Twenty-two Auburn football players made the SEC fall Academic Honor Roll. That’s an impressive number for a team that finished No. 2 nationally on the field.
Until next time …
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: