AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football mostly stuck to the expected first-team offensive line script in its first week of fall camp. Austin Golson stayed at center, Darius James held down left tackle and Braden Smith continued his transition to right tackle.
But in the final fall media viewing window Tuesday, one massive figure came onto the scene and brought a lot of change with him.
Sophomore offensive tackle Prince Tega Wanogho Jr. lined up at first-team left tackle. According to offensive line coach Herb Hand, he worked there again Wednesday — the latest milestone in what has been a huge offseason for him.
“You look at where he was a year ago today, just coming over to the position, he was like a ball of clay there,” Hand said. “Now, he’s starting to really become something special because his execution and his understanding — not only from an assignment standpoint, but technique and fundamental standpoint — is really starting to catch up with his talent. That’s exciting.”
Wanogho has the look of a left tackle in major college football. At 6-foot-7 and 301 pounds, few can match his physical dominance on the Auburn roster.
“The dude is a freak,” Hand said. “His upside is very high.”
After playing just one year of high school football at Edgewood Academy in Alabama, and developing for two seasons, the Nigeria native now has the football knowledge to complement his natural gifts.
“From where he was at this time last year to where he is now is an astronomical difference,” Hand said. “It’s really a credit to him and his work ethic and his coachability. He’s a very coachable guy. His want-to is at a very high level.”
Wanogho stood out to coaches and teammates in spring practices, even getting first-team reps earlier than expected at the annual A-Day game. Malzahn specifically pointed him out for his progress in his A-Day press conference in April.
“He’s agile. He can move around,” James said in March. “He’s really athletic, which reminds me of myself. He’s strong. When he gets a hold of you, you’re probably not getting off the block.”
But in the first week of fall camp, Wanogho’s stock appeared to cool. James looked like a lock at left tackle, and the offensive line buzz focused on graduate transfers Wilson Bell and Casey Dunn, along with 5-star freshman left tackle Calvin Ashley.
That changed Tuesday, when he appeared on a first-team offensive line in a protection drill and shifted the look of the Tigers’ front five.
Wanogho’s appearance pushed James, his fellow competitor for the left tackle job, over to right tackle. That pushed Smith back to his old position of right guard. That knocked Mike Horton over to left guard. In this lineup, guards Bell and Marquel Harrell were relegated to second-team duties.
Hand said that mixed and matched lineup was one of three the Tigers used Wednesday in practice. Two of them featured Wanogho, with the other one utilizing the projected James-Horton-Golson-Bell-Smith look from left to right.
A lot can change between now and the Tigers’ season opener against Georgia Southern on Sept. 2. But it’s obvious Hand looks at Wanogho as a contender to start at left tackle.
“Tega is certainly starting to play at the level that he’s capable of from a skill set standpoint, and that’s really exciting,” Hand said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence, we’ve got a lot of confidence in Tega right now. He hasn’t done it on game days yet, so there’s always a little bit of unknown there. But certainly his skill set is what you want.
“You certainly like to see a guy do it on Saturdays before you crown him. That’s a good phrase — crown the Prince.”