Feb. 10, 2014
There was a time when the talent-rich Mobile area was fertile ground for Auburn recruiting. Joe Whitt made it that way for 25 years as an Auburn assistant. But once Whitt moved off the field, it all but dried up.
Nick Saban arrived as Alabama’s head coach in 2007, made no secret recruiting Mobile was a priority and all but took it over. From 2008 through 2013, Auburn signed and enrolled just six players from the Mobile area. Two – defensive tackle Nick Fairley out of junior college in 2009 and center Reese Dismukes in 2011 – became stars. Linebacker Jonathan Evans, who signed in 2009, became a starter.
Robert Cooper signed in 2009 and left with making an impact. Defensive tackle Devaunte Sigler and JaBrian Niles signed in 2011. Sigler left after two seasons and Niles has not broken into the rotation. Offensive tackle Robert Leff signed in 2012 and will be a redshirt sophomore next season.
When Gus Malzahn arrived as head coach in December 2012, there was little time for a comprehensive strategy. But as he and his assistants looked ahead to the Class of 2014, Mobile was a priority again. Dameyune Craig, who played at Blount High School and recruited the area for Florida State, went to work. And his impact was immediate.
Rodney Garner, Auburn’s associate head coach, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, said success in Mobile is vital.
“We wanted to take that area back,” said Garner, who became renowned as a recruiter as an Auburn assistant from 1990-1995. “That was important. It was important we hold our own in the state. It’s been a good year. I’m excited about it.”
Auburn outfought Alabama for 5-star linebacker Tre Williams of St. Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile and for 4-star defensive end Justin Thornton of Vigor. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson says Vigor linebacker De’Shaun Davis is going to be a major surprise.
Alabama’s only Mobile-area signee was offensive lineman Joshua Casher, who committed to Auburn and changed his mind.
Auburn’s in-state success didn’t end in the Mobile area. Oxford’s Roc Thomas, a 5-star rated as high as the nation’s No. 2 running back prospect, turned aside Alabama to sign with Auburn. Opelika defensive back Stephen Roberts backed out of a commitment to Alabama and signed with Auburn. So did h-back Jakell Mitchell, his teammate.
Bruising Prattville running back Kamryn Pettway committed last February and never wavered, despite pushes from Florida State and Georgia.
Alabama got its share, too, including a painful one for Auburn in Auburn High School linebacker Rashaan Evans. But in the state as a whole and the Mobile area in particular, Malzahn and his men more than held their own.
On the night he was named head coach, Malzahn declared it was a new day. The Tigers proved it by winning the SEC championship and coming within 13 seconds of the national championship.
And they proved it again on signing day.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: