AUBURN, Ala. — Few teams in the country have benefited more from junior college recruiting than Auburn football. The team that snagged Cam Newton and Nick Fairley from those ranks kept it going strong after Gus Malzahn became head coach ahead of the 2013 season.
That’s not the case anymore for Malzahn and the Tigers. Of Auburn’s 24 signees in the class of 2018, only one — defensive lineman Daquan Newkirk — came from junior college.
Over time, junior college signees have become less of a necessity and more of a luxury for Auburn. And that’s because Malzahn doesn’t have to rely on bringing in experienced players to fill gaps.
“We’ve had solid recruiting classes one after another,” Malzahn said Wednesday. “So if we have a junior college player that is a need for that position for that year, we’re definitely going to recruit them if they fit. But I think it probably says more about just how stable we are from a recruiting standpoint for depth.”
The lone signing of Newkirk marks the lowest JUCO influence in an Auburn recruiting class under Malzahn. That number has dwindled from what were large classes in 2013 and 2014:
- 2013: 6 of 23 signees (26.1 percent of class)
- Ben Bradley, Nick Marshall, Cameron Artis-Payne, Kenny Flowers, Devonte Danzey, Brandon King
- 2014: 6 of 27 signees (22.2 percent)
- Duke Williams, DaVonte Lambert, Derrick Moncrief, Joseph Turner, Devaroe Lawrence, Xavier Dampeer
- 2015: 3 of 27 signees (11.1 percent)
- Jovon Robinson, Jason Smith, Maurice Swain
- 2016: 2 of 23 signees (8.7 percent)
- Paul James III, John Franklin III
- 2017: 2 of 21 signees (9.5 percent)
- Jarrett Stidham, Sal Cannella
- 2018: 1 of 24 signees (4.2 percent)
- Daquan Newkirk
Now that a full class has come through Auburn, the Tigers are fully relying on Malzahn’s recruits. Auburn hasn’t had many glaring holes, outside of quarterback ahead of Jarrett Stidham’s arrival last year.
Even Auburn’s lone JUCO signee in 2018 is a special case. Newkirk was originally a 2016 commit for the Tigers, but he failed to qualify academically. Auburn continued to recruit him through his junior college days with the intention of adding him after his time at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
“Daquan Newkirk [is a] defensive lineman that has been committed to us for a long time out of high school,” Malzahn said in December. “He had to go to junior college. He played running back in high school. Very athletic, big guy. Really excited about him.”
Junior college signees can be important pickups, as Auburn has seen at quarterback with Newton, Marshall and Stidham.
But going almost exclusively the high school route is the best way to build a program for the long haul. Malzahn will be able to point to the shrinking JUCO influence on his roster as another positive sign for the future.