AUBURN, Ala. — After signing just five players from the state of Alabama in 2016, Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn said he made in-state recruiting a strong focus in 2017. And the rankings show the Tigers went above and beyond in accomplishing Malzahn’s mission.
Auburn signed 10 in-state players to its 2017 class and made Alabama the cornerstone of a regional-heavy recruiting strategy.
“Once again, the state of Alabama was a priority for us,” Malzahn said last Wednesday. “We signed 10 players from the state of Alabama, six from the state of Georgia and four from Florida. Those are our three states we make our living in so real pleased with that.”
Simply put, Auburn’s 2017 haul of Alabama recruits is the highest-rated for the program in more than a decade.
Of the 10 in-state signees, six were consensus blue-chip — that is, 5-star or 4-star — recruits. That beat the class of 2015’s total of five blue-chippers. According to 247Sports, Auburn hadn’t signed more than five Alabama blue-chip recruits in the modern era of recruiting rankings, which dates back to 2002.
Auburn’s 2002 class is closest comparison to the 2017 class in terms of elite in-state talent. In 2002, Auburn signed Alabama’s No. 1 player, 5-star wide receiver Ben Obomanu, along with the state’s No. 3, No. 5 and No. 6-ranked prospects — Montae Pitts, Tommy Jackson and Brandon Cox. (The Tigers also signed Alabama’s No. 7 through 11 players in that class, which were all high 3-stars.)
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In the 2017 class, Auburn picked up six consensus 4-stars from its home state — defensive end Tadarian Moultry, offensive tackle Austin Troxell, defensive back Malcolm Askew, athlete Alaric Williams, wide receiver Noah Igbinoghene and linebacker KJ Britt.
Moultry is the crown jewel of the in-state class. He was No. 2 overall in 247Sports’ Alabama rankings. A defensive end from Birmingham, Troxell is No. 4 in the site’s widely used Composite Rankings.
“When I think about T.D., he’s one of the best players, if not the best player, in the state,” Malzahn said. “He’s a 5-star guy. He took no other visits. He was extremely loyal to us, and he helped us recruit. He’s got a unique skill set. … We’re very excited about T.D. We think he can come in here and help right off the bat.”
Tadarian Moultry (Chris Kirschner/SECCountry.com)
Moultry was a big in-state recruiting win for Auburn. Rival Alabama dominated in-state recruiting for most of Nick Saban’s tenure as the Crimson Tide head coach.
But Auburn signed as many in-state blue chip recruits as Alabama in the 2017 class. The last time that happened was 2007, when Saban was a month into the job in Tuscaloosa.
Malzahn’s plan of attack
While the Crimson Tide signed higher-rated Alabama players and locked down the nation’s No. 1 overall class for a seventh consecutive season, they didn’t hold a massive advantage over Auburn with in-state recruiting.
That was the plan for Malzahn and his staff from the beginning of the 2017 cycle.
“We really tried to start in our state,” Malzahn said. “We think there are some great players here. The coaching here is unbelievable. Signing 10 is very good, and I’m very excited about it.”
Auburn’s in-state recruiting success could continue through the next few cycles thanks to its latest assistant coach hire.
New offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey spent more than a decade as a high school football coach in the state of Alabama. Lindsey has connections and relationships with schools all over the state, which will be valuable on the recruiting trail.
“You have relationships that have been built over time, and that’s a good thing when you’re trying to figure out about players and getting to know these coaches and guys you can trust that are telling you the right thing,” Lindsey said on National Signing Day during the program’s in-house broadcast. “It’s fun to be back and see a lot of people I’ve known for a long time.”
And when Lindsey and the rest of Auburn’s staff recruits in-state during the 2018 cycle, Malzahn said it will use the same strategy that netted the Tigers a strong Alabama haul last week.
It all comes down to relationships.
“We’re a relationship staff, a relationship school,” Malzahn said. “If we can develop long-term relationships with guys and people where football is important to them, academics is important to them, getting them ready for life, they fit here at Auburn. It’s just a matter of identifying those type of guys and developing long-term relationships.”