MADISON, Ala. — Austin Troxell will be the first to tell you that he had zero desire to go to Auburn.
It’s October 2014, and Troxell is in the middle of his sophomore season at Madison (Ala.) Academy. The 6-foot-7 offensive tackle is a couple of months away from playing inside Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium for the Alabama Class 3A state championship.
And that’s the only trip to the Plains that this diehard Alabama fan wants to take that fall.
“I didn’t want to go to Auburn on a visit at all,” Troxell told SEC Country last month.
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But Auburn already is pushing hard for the sophomore Troxell. His father Matt — another huge Crimson Tide fan — tells him to at least give the Tigers one visit.
“Me and his older brother were like, ‘Hey, we’re going to Auburn,'” Matt Troxell said. “And he didn’t want to go. And was like, ‘Dude, you don’t even know what it’s like. Let’s just go and keep every option open for you.'”
The younger Troxell finally relented, and the family visited Auburn for the Tigers’ wild 42-35 victory over South Carolina.
That weekend would change Troxell’s life and put him on a course he would’ve never imagined.
Two and a half years later, the self-confessed “really big Alabama fan” is a true freshman offensive tackle at Auburn. He’s all orange and blue after a lifetime of crimson and white.
“We’ve gotten rid of all the Alabama gear in my house,” Troxell said. “It’s 100 percent Auburn now.”
The visit that changed everything
When Troxell visited Auburn for the first time in October 2014, he was a rising prospect in the state of Alabama.
As a sophomore, he paved the way for future Auburn running backs Kerryon Johnson and Malik Miller on a Madison Academy team that won its third straight Class 3A title. In the state championship game that December, the Mustangs scored 70 points and ran for 403 yards behind the run block-loving Troxell and the rest of a dominant offensive line.
Troxell had plenty of size at 6-foot-7, and he had athleticism that allowed him to thrive on both the football field and the basketball court.
But Troxell said he didn’t realize how much potential he had until he visited Auburn for the South Carolina game. During the visit, the Tigers offered the sophomore tackle a scholarship — his first as a recruit.
Had a great time at Auburn this weekend. Glad to get my first offer.
— Austin Troxell (@austintroxell33) October 26, 2014
“I didn’t really expect that when I went down there,” Troxell said. “That never crossed my mind. But once that happened, something clicked in my head. I knew I could go play college football at a high level.”
And for the first time, Troxell realized that it might be for his favorite school’s biggest rival.
“That first day he was there, I could kind of tell that he was confused,” Matt Troxell said. “He was thinking, ‘Hey, I’m not supposed to like it here.'”
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But Troxell liked the Plains, and it forced him to make an important change.
“When they offered me, I was like, ‘I’ve got to throw this whole being a fan of a school thing away and just pick the best place for me and my family,'” Troxell said.
Auburn’s head start in the recruiting process went a long way for Troxell. Running backs coach Tim Horton, who plucked Johnson and Miller out of Madison Academy for Auburn, was a relentless recruiter for Troxell.
“He was always on me,” Troxell said. “Every single day, I feel like I got a text or a DM or a phone call from him. He was just a really good recruiter and a nice guy overall. That’s how I fell in love with Auburn.”
The way Auburn recruited Troxell stood out to his coaches at Madison Academy.
“They built a relationship with him,” Madison Academy coach Grant Reynolds told SEC Country. “They spent time with him, sat down with him and talked a lot about just stuff that wasn’t even football-related. There was a trust there between Austin and the coaches at Auburn that he really liked and really felt comfortable with.”
A few months after Troxell’s first visit to Auburn, he received an offer from Alabama. His recruitment took off that spring with visits and offers from Georgia, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.
But by the time Troxell entered his junior year, it was clear that his recruitment was a two-horse race between the school he grew up loving and the rival that showed him the love first.
“It was Bama and Auburn all the way. I didn’t really take any other visits outside the state,” Troxell told SEC Country late last year. “I mean, why would I leave the state when you’ve got two of the best programs in the nation?”
‘This is a fresh start for us’
Matt Troxell said he knew for a while that his son would go to Auburn.
“There was just something about Auburn,” Matt Troxell said. “His actions there showed it. We had great visits everywhere. But he just felt like he was at home. I don’t know if he realized it until the day he committed or not, but I think we all knew all along where he was going to go.”
While his father felt like he would pick the Tigers, the two-way recruiting battle with the Crimson Tide pushed through his junior season and into 2016.
Troxell went back and forth between Tuscaloosa and Auburn with unofficial visits as a junior — and he ended up taking more trips to see Alabama. For a time in the spring, it looked like the Crimson Tide led for Troxell’s commitment.
But one more trip to both schools settled things for Troxell. He attended Auburn’s famed Big Cat Weekend last June before heading to Alabama for a few days.
“It was kind of a strange situation,” Matt Troxell said. “We had just left Big Cat Weekend, and he and his mother spent three days in Tuscaloosa. My wife called and told me, ‘Austin’s had a great time in Tuscaloosa, I think he’s about ready to make up his mind about Alabama.'”
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As Troxell got into the truck to go back to Madison with his mother Christy, he had already made up his mind — and it wasn’t what she expected.
“It was tough, really tough. But after Big Cat, I knew I would go to Auburn,” Troxell said. “That was the day I knew I wanted to be an Auburn Tiger. From then on, I took one more visit to Bama. And it was a really, really, really good visit.
“And in the back of my mind, I was just like, ‘I feel way more comfortable at Auburn.’ I just kept that on my mind and went with them.'”
Troxell didn’t make his commitment official for another two weeks. During that time, Matt Troxell said the family had to adjust to the strange concept of supporting an Auburn Tiger. He didn’t want to be one of “those parents” who disagreed with their son’s decision.
“I remember watching the Under Armour All-American Game when Landon Collins committed to Alabama on national TV, and his momma was obviously a huge LSU fan,” Matt Troxell said. “She made some remarks about all that. And I said, ‘I surely don’t want to put my son through a situation like that.'”
So the night before the young offensive tackle went down to Auburn and committed to the Tigers in person, the Troxells swept their house for Alabama gear and memorabilia.
“We loaded up all the Alabama stuff we had in the house in our living room,” Matt Troxell said. “We just piled it in the floor. And I said, ‘OK, this is it. This is a fresh start for us.’ And we went down to the mall that night and went Auburn shopping for the first time.
“He knew that night that, hey, mom and dad are on board, and brother and sister are on board. We’re behind him 100 percent, no matter what school. We just wanted to make sure that he knew we were Austin Troxell fans. Wherever he goes to school, we’re going to be in the stands no matter what. ”
Committed to Auburn University!! War Eagle🐅🐅 pic.twitter.com/3gd9veNJS9
— Austin Troxell (@austintroxell33) June 18, 2016
Support through the ups and downs
Troxell’s June commitment was huge for Auburn, which was in the process of building a star-studded offensive line class. The Tigers picked up pledges from 5-star Calvin Ashley and 4-star Nick Brahms in 2016.
But Troxell was different. He was one of the best prospects in the state of Alabama — and one that grew up cheering for the Crimson Tide. In the 2018 recruiting cycle, Auburn coaches have used Troxell as an example to recruits who loved Alabama.
“I think Coach Malzahn and the coaches at Auburn, they were worried about getting Austin,” Matt Troxell said. “He was an in-state kid, and he was a big Alabama fan. It wasn’t as easy as pulling Kerryon or Malik. They knew where Austin’s heart was.”
Kerryon Johnson and Malik Miller were important aspects of Troxell’s comfort level on the Plains. The former Madison Academy running backs helped recruit Troxell to Auburn.
“It was good for him to have people that he knew there already who were being successful,” Reynolds said. “I think that helped him make that decision.”
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Troxell found more support from Auburn a few months later, when an ACL tear cost him his senior season. It was the same knee injury that knocked him out of the state playoffs as a junior, and it was another major setback for a dominant offensive lineman.
A second knee injury in two years threw some doubt into the mind of Troxell and his family. But the Tigers made sure that went away quickly.
“(Auburn’s coaches) were just all behind me and supporting me,” Troxell said. “They told me that we were going to work through it and that the offer was still on the table. … They told me, ‘When you get here next May, you’re going to be an Auburn Tiger.'”
That support pushed Troxell through another surgery and another grueling rehab process.
“I know it was frustrating for him to have to go through that a second time,” Reynolds said. “I saw what was important to him. Football is really important to him. … He went to rehab every single day, and sometimes twice a day, to get that knee back. He’s dropped some weight this offseason, and he’s been training, running bleachers in the early mornings.”
All that hard work paid off for Troxell this spring, as doctors cleared him for full activity at Auburn. He enrolled on the Plains earlier this week as a Tide fan-turned-Tiger tackle.
For the Troxell family, the countdown is on for the first official day of their new fandom — when Austin returns to the field from his ACL injury.
“It’s going to be an emotional day,” Matt Troxell said. “If I can get down there to watch him practice, or when he gets to run through the tunnel in the season and hit the field again, I know that all the hard work he’s put in will be worth it for him. He has a bright future ahead of him at Auburn. It’s going to be a long summer, just waiting on fall camp.”
The thought of that day makes Troxell say something he would’ve never dreamed of uttering two years ago.
“It’s going to be great, especially playing in Jordan-Hare for Auburn,” Troxell said.