AUBURN, Ala. — Whenever teams prepare for bowl games, coaches — even teammates — are always on the lookout for young developing players who can make the jump next season.
Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson knows exactly who fits that mold on offense as the Tigers get ready for the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 against Big 12 champion Oklahoma.
“I think the guy who’s really caught my eye is Marquis McClain,” Johnson said earlier this week. “He redshirted this year. He’s one of the biggest guys on offense, period, in terms of just physique.”
McClain signed with Auburn in the class of 2016 as a 3-star wide receiver prospect from Crestview, Fla. While other members of Auburn’s loaded true freshman receiver haul — Kyle Davis, Nate Craig-Myers and Eli Stove — played this fall, McClain took a redshirt.
But at 6-foot-2, the bigger McClain is turning heads during Sugar Bowl practices on the Plains.
“Marquis is a very talented young man,” head coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday. “They’ve been talking about him all year on the scout team making plays. He’s doing a super job. He’s one of those guys that made some plays when we put the ball down and let those guys play for the three or four days that we did.”
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Despite his lower ranking, McClain stood out in Auburn’s most recent signing class for his muscular frame. He continues to impress his teammates in that area.
“If you ever see him, he literally looks like a linebacker,” Johnson said. “I mean, he’s cut. He’s huge. Once he plays physical on a consistent basis, I think he could do very (well) for us.”
When asked if McClain has the size to potentially play tight end in the future, Malzahn wouldn’t speculate on a position change.
However, Malzahn and Auburn are excited about his physical gifts. According to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports, McClain runs “40-yard dash in less than 4.5 seconds and can long jump 23 feet.” He also ran track for his high school in Crestview.
“He’s a big guy,” Malzahn said. “He can really run, he’s got a great vertical, got good hands, just all around very good athlete. Very good person, too.”
McClain won’t be able to make his first impact in a competitive game until next fall. However, Johnson thinks the Florida native has a great chance to be ready when the time comes.
“When he gets playing physical and gets a couple of snaps under his belt playing at our level … he could be a guy who could make some noise next year,” Johnson said. “We have others as well who people might not really know about. But him, to me, has been the one guy who’s really caught my eye.”