AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn will have to replace one of its offensive tackles next season, and two Nigeria natives who are new to the position have emerged as early challengers for starting jobs in 2017.
Redshirt freshman Prince Tega Wanogho and true freshman Prince Micheal Sammons, who is redshirting this season, are taking full advantage of the extra work that Auburn’s Sugar Bowl practices provide.
Both Wanogho and Sammons came to the United States from Nigeria as teenagers. They both played basketball at first but became blue-chip offensive linemen recruits in a short time on the football field.
Wangoho, who is from Elmore, Ala., spent the 2016 season as a backup to Robert Leff at right tackle after sitting out the 2015 season to recover from a major shin injury. Standing at 6-foot-8 and 282 pounds, Wanogho appeared in nine games as a reserve offensive lineman and special teams player.
Sammons, who arrived in Auburn from Clarksville, Ohio, started playing football as a high school sophomore in 2013 after excelling in both basketball and soccer. The 6-foot-7 tackle missed several weeks during the season due to a foot injury and subsequent surgery.
But in his return to the practice field this month, Sammons stood out to his fellow offensive players.
“He doesn’t have a lot of football experience under his belt, but when you see him play, he does a lot of things that catch your eye for a guy who doesn’t have a lot of experience (and) coming off of a surgery,” running back Kerryon Johnson said. “In the scrimmages we had this week, nobody was coming from the right side. No pressure. It didn’t matter who they put over there.”
Johnson said he’s taken note of Sammons’ personality and upbeat attitude in practices.
“He’s also just personally one of my favorite O-linemen just to mess with and bother,” Johnson said. “But I think he’s going to be really good. … He’s such a nice guy that anything you try to do, it’s hard to make him mad, which then makes me mad, which makes me want to make him mad more. You just bump into him, bother him. It’s just all good fun.”
Sammons will have an opportunity to compete for a tackle spot during spring practices, according to coach Gus Malzahn.
“He hadn’t done a whole lot, and he was able to compete,” Malzahn said. “He’s a very athletic, strong guy that is still learning the game. It was encouraging to me as far as him going into spring, I think he’s got a chance to make some noise at his position.”
According to left guard Alex Kozan, Leff took time to work with both Sammons and Wanogho after practices. The outgoing senior sees a lot of potential in the two Nigeria natives who are still learning how to play at a high level.
“I think no matter what, there’s always going to be competition,” Kozan said. “But they both have the right mindset. They’re both focused players.”
While he played right tackle during the season behind Leff, Wanogho worked at left tackle during early bowl practices.
The 2016 regular season was Wanogho’s first extended time at offensive tackle, as he moved from the defensive side of the ball during the summer.
“I think he’ll have a chance to compete for a spot,” Malzahn said. “He’s been an offensive tackle for a season now. The spring will be very, very important for him. He wants to be good. He’s got that competitive nature in him, it’s just he’s playing a new position. Sometimes it takes a little bit. Spring will be very good for him.”
Center Austin Golson, who spent time at offensive tackle before moving back inside during the season, knows what it takes to play the position. Golson sees plenty of potential in the two raw athletes who could break into the starting lineup with him in 2017.
“They’re very, very, very talented, probably two of the most talented guys we’ve got,” Golson said. “So (they need to) just keep learning the game and keep getting better. I think they’ll be really good by the time they leave.”