Markail Benton made it clear days ago that Auburn wasn’t his early favorite despite having taken several trips to The Plains in recent months.
But the four-star outside linebacker from Phenix City, Ala., acknowledged that both the Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide are ahead of Georgia, Mississippi State and Florida State.
“That’s who I communicate the most with,” said Benton, who earned an invite to The Nike Opening in Oregon over the weekend. “I get along with (Auburn linebackers) Coach (Travis) Williams a lot. Me and (Alabama defensive coordinator) Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt have a great relationship. Me and (Alabama secondary) Coach (Derrick) Ansley, cornerbacks coach, he’s been my recruiter since (he was at) Kentucky, and me and him have a great relationship.”
Benton has visited Auburn twice since January. The future All-American linebacker attended the Tigers’ Junior Day event on Feb. 20, where he spent a majority of his time interacting with first-year linebackers coach Travis Williams. The two have maintained quite the relationship.
“Me and Coach Williams get along real good,” said Benton, who is rated the No. 6 outside linebacker in the Class of 2017. “He’s a great guy. I think he knows what he’s talking about because he’s been at Auburn and been to the league. It’s great to have coaches who have already been there and knows what it takes to get to the next level.”
The 6-foot-2, 227-pound Benton is enticed by Auburn’s lack of depth at linebacker. The Tigers have several voids to fill following the departures of Kris Frost, Cassanova McKinzy and Justin Garrett. Graduate transfer T.J. Neal will give the program an immediate upgrade, but long-term depth needs to be addressed.
Benton wants to play early, but he won’t discount other programs with clouded depth charts, such as Alabama. He was in Tuscaloosa a short time ago and he plans to visit again.
Asked if an in-state battle is brewing, Benton replied, “Not at all.”
All rankings are according to the 247Sports Composite unless otherwise noted.