AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football decided to move just one returning starter on the offensive line at the beginning of spring practice when right guard Braden Smith shifted to right tackle. Darius James, the returning starter at left tackle, was a prime candidate to make a move but stayed put.
However, James’ starting job at left tackle isn’t secure. After a year of recovery and a year of backing up James, sophomore Prince Tega Wanogho is competing for first-team work there this spring.
“Time will tell on that whether when he’s ready and all that, but he’s definitely in the mix and getting a lot of reps,” offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said Tuesday. “I like the progress he’s making.”
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Wanogho — one of two Nigerian-born offensive tackles on Auburn’s roster — was a hot name among players and coaches through the first four spring practices.
Standing 6-foot-8, Wanogho had a meteoric rise as a high school senior. He went from never playing football to a 4-star recruit in a matter of months.
Wanogho played defensive end and tight end for Alabama private school powerhouse Edgewood Academy. But after a redshirt season in 2015, when Wanogho recovered from breaking leg on the basketball court at Edgewood, Auburn moved him to offensive tackle.
Wanogho had the physical gifts to excel at the position, and he added roughly 50 pounds to his massive frame since his arrival in 2015.
“He’s pretty strong out there,” James said. “He’s agile. He can move around. 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.”
The sophomore moves exceptionally well for an offensive lineman, but it took time for him to learn a new position.
“Just from a skill set standpoint, he’s a very good athlete,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “Just learning the position and it takes a awhile. It takes awhile for guys who have played the position all their life once they get to college.”
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Wanogho just needed the reps, and he’s getting them at a high level so far in preseason camp. Malzahn said Saturday that Wanogho will rotate in with the first-team offensive line in practices.
“I mean, if you just look at him, he’s definitely got the build and the athleticism and all that,” Smith said. “I think he’s really close to putting it all together. This will be a big spring for him.”
As for James, the former Texas offensive lineman embraces the competition from his younger understudy. James, who started eight games for Auburn in 2016 at left tackle, knows improvement by Wanogho will motivate him to get better, too.
“Prince Tega’s been pushing me a lot because he’s gotten a lot better than he was because he was a raw talent,” James said. “Now that he’s honed in on one position, he’s on the same ride that I am. He’s just getting better every day, and he’s pushing me to get better every day.”