Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Auburn Tigers football recruiting notebook with Auburn recruiting beat writer Benjamin Wolk. This is the last article I’ll write for SEC Country. There’s some recruiting content on the future of the quarterback position and the 2019 class. And, at the end, there’s my takeaway from my experience covering Auburn recruiting and writing for you. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.
The long-term future at quarterback
In a page views-driven industry, it didn’t take long for me to figure out what Auburn recruiting readers liked.
Maybe it’s the closely followed recruitments and careers of Cam Newton and Nick Marshall. Maybe it’s the fallout from Jeremy Johnson’s inability to live up to unfair expectations. Regardless, Auburn fans crave information about quarterbacks.
When I came to Auburn, the quarterback position had its mysteries. I’ve covered the recruitments of Jarrett Stidham, Malik Willis, Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix. All four have been headline breadwinners for Auburn recruiting writers. They have the skill sets. They have the star power. They have the class.
The stability of that specific position has taken an unprecedented 180 in two years. That isn’t changing any time soon.
For my last article, it makes sense to look at the future of the quarterback position one last time. Nix is set in stone and will be a superstar for Auburn down the road. But he’s not the only future quarterback in the Tigers pipeline.
Auburn finds itself in solid position to take one elite quarterback in 2020 and one elite quarterback in 2021 to continue the consistent line of quarterbacks.
For 2020, the two names to watch at the top of the board are Robby Ashford and Chandler Morris.
Ashford plays for Hoover (Ala.), which makes him wide receiver commit George Pickens’ quarterback. Ashford’s reps have been limited, but college coaches are already privy to his combination of athleticism and accuracy. He’s likely priority No. 1 for the Tigers in 2020, and Auburn feels as though it is positioned nicely to land him.
Morris is the son of Arkansas coach Chad Morris. It’s reasonable to think Chandler will wind up playing for his father. He camped at Auburn for a couple of days last week. In post-camp interviews, Morris acknowledged that he needs to clear up his future some by the end of the summer. He’s likely to let other coaches know soon whether he will play for his father in college. If not, he has a close relationship with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey that likely will make the Tigers the front-runner if he opts to go outside of Arkansas.
In 2021, the Tigers are already well ahead of the curve for two rising stars.
Aaron McLaughlin and Brock Vandagriff camped with the Tigers in the last week of the contact period. It’s still early, but I would be stunned if one of those 2021 quarterback wasn’t the figurehead of Auburn’s class that cycle. The Tigers staff loves the arm talent of both.
McLaughlin has camped at Auburn and visited several times in the last year. He works out with the same quarterback coach as Malik Willis, which can only help the Tigers. Vandagriff comes from an Auburn household, and based on his performance at camp, has the makings of the nation’s No. 1 quarterback in 2021.
The purpose of this note: Auburn will be set — like, really set — for the foreseeable future.
The future of Auburn’s Class of 2019
It’s a shame I don’t know whether I’ll be covering Auburn for the rest of this recruiting cycle. It’s shaping up to be a special year for the Tigers, if that already hasn’t become clear. My first two cycles at Auburn were consistently marred by the lingering question: Will Malzahn still be the Tigers coach next year? The answer was always yes, but understandably, college football recruits were affected by that unknown.
Malzahn’s offseason deal — regardless of how fans feel about the specifics — gave Auburn recruiting the lifeblood it needed for the Class of 2019. As one assistant coach put it on National Signing Day: “This next class is going to be top 5, just watch.” The verdict is still out on that, but the Tigers are on the right path.
As I ink my final article for SEC Country, Auburn sits at 12 commitments. That number likely will rise to 17 or so by the end of summer and give the Tigers some flexibility heading into the season. By National Signing Day, that number will move to the 24 or 25 range.
Recruiting coverage thrives off the prediction business, so I’d be remiss not to give you a little something something on the way out. Here are the 10 names of players who will 100 percent without a doubt be in Auburn’s class by the end of the 2019 cycle. (It’s easy to say that on my way out where you might not be able to hold me accountable for my freezing cold takes, but let’s be real. It’s recruiting, and there are no 100 percent certainties.)
Without further ado, here are those 10 players who I project to be future Auburn Tigers.
- 4-star OL Keiondre Jones
- 3-star DL Colby Wooden
- 4-star CB Zion Puckett
- 3-star CB Nehemiah Pritchett
- 4-star WR Jalen Curry
- 4-star WR John Dunmore
- 5-star CB Andrew Booth
- 4-star DL Charles Moore
- 4-star ATH Mark-Antony Richards
- 4-star LB Kalen Deloach
There were a couple of expected picks in there and a few surprises. Since I won’t have any additional articles here, if you’d like to call me out on any misses or ask me any questions, feel free to drop into my Twitter DMs at @benjaminwolk. Think of my DMs like an Auburn message board until I find my next destination.
Reflection on the SEC Country experience — and my future
Goodbyes have never been my thing, so let’s not think of it that way.
As I like to remind people, for the last two years, this space — my (mostly) daily recruiting notebooks — has given Auburn readers something lacking from an exceptional market for sports coverage.
It may be off the radar of people outside the media sphere, but there are a lot of talented people in this market. Football, basketball, recruiting, softball, baseball, you name it, there are countless writers covering Auburn athletics who do it as well as anyone in the country. I wasn’t aware of it when I arrived on the Plains two years ago, but I learned the hard way quickly.
To make a name for yourself in the Auburn market, you have to find a way to do something differently, something nobody else does. SEC Country, a free outlet committed to recruiting coverage, gave me that opportunity and wanted to find its spot in a competitive market that includes pro’s pros at the typical go-to recruiting services at 247Sports, Rivals and Scout.
So, for two years, I’ve had the honor of trying to deliver you Auburn’s football recruiting happenings for free to complement Justin Ferguson and Lauren Shute’s team coverage.
Justin, Lauren and I were an unlikely team.
We were all 24 years old or younger when we took our jobs at SEC Country. Outside of Ferg, we had no experience or sources on the Auburn beat. We were truly forced to learn on the fly. On a beat as competitive as this one, we were positioned to fail. Many might see SEC Country’s closure as proof of that, but I’ll forever argue the opposite. The outpouring of support we’ve received over the last month made it clear to me that we, as unlikely as it may have been, created a unique identity for ourselves on the Auburn beat.
Lauren’s features bridged a gap often disconnected on hyper-controlled SEC beats that limit player and coach interaction with the media. She told personal, behind-the-scenes stories about Auburn student-athletes in a way no one else does, or can, for that matter.
Justin’s analysis is second to none. That goes for anything really, but especially Auburn sports. I mean, seriously, you should see some of these spreadsheets this guy puts together to give readers Ferg’s Film Room. It gives me a headache just thinking about it, but it’s the type of thing that makes Justin tick — and, as a result, a rising star in a survival-of-the-fittest industry.
There’s no doubt in my mind these two sensationally gifted and inspiring people are destined for greatness. I’m lucky to be able to call them my colleagues, and more important, my friends. We are SEC Country Auburn, and I’m endlessly proud of that.
As for myself, I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’m looking forward to whatever it is. I didn’t know a lick about covering recruiting or covering Auburn when I signed on two years ago. I hope, to you the reader, that I’ve provided you some form of knowledge or entertainment throughout the 2017, 2018 and 2019 recruiting cycles.
There are other obligatory thank yous I need to make.
Members of the last three recruiting classes — those who chose Auburn and those who didn’t — let me chronicle their lives in ways they didn’t have to, sharing untold stories on the future faces of college football. I look forward to tracking each and every one of you trying to see out your dreams just as I still hope to see out mine.
Recruiting isn’t an easy beat to cover. Truth be told, at times, if felt damn near impossible. But the recruiting passion of my readers forced me to give you the best recruiting intel I could. It took time and trust, but eventually many loyal members of the Auburn community bought in. To anyone who has read me the last two years, the biggest thank you goes to you.
It’s not goodbye; it’s see you later.