AUBURN, Ala. — While Texas is arguably the most famous state for football in America, it’s been a largely untapped frontier of talent for Auburn football. That’s starting to change, thanks to the arrival of a few key figures under Gus Malzahn.
Heading into the 2016 season, Auburn football could only claim nine former lettermen who were from the state of Texas. Here are the nine, according to the program’s official spring prospectus:
- Edwin House (Wichita Falls): 1945
- DL Bruce Yates (El Paso): 1963-65
- DT Ricky Allen (Friendswood): 1977-78
- DT Vernon Blackard (Gainesville): 1979-82
- QB Clay Helton (Sugarland): 1992
- H Jacob Allen (Bridgeport): 1999-01
- DB Josh Hebert (Houston): 2005-07
- WR Emory Blake (Austin): 2009-12
- DE Nosa Eguae (Mansfield): 2010-13
For many, only a third of those Texan Tigers stand out. Helton, who started his playing career at Auburn before transferring to Houston, is currently the head coach at USC. Blake and Eguae played on Auburn’s most recent national championship team. Eguae returned to the Plains recently as part of Auburn’s National Signing Day broadcast.
But Auburn’s 2017 roster will feature the most scholarship Texans at a single time in program history.
Former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who hails from Stephenville, is the biggest name. Sophomore running back Kam Martin, another former Baylor Bear, is from Port Arthur. Senior left tackle Darius James, a Killeen native, transferred to Auburn from Texas. (Auburn will also have Spencer Nigh, a walk-on H-back from Magnolia, in 2017.)
Texas won’t become a large pipeline state for Auburn football any time soon, but it’s clear the Tigers are stretching into the Lone Star State more under Malzahn.
After all, Malzahn personally recruited Blake during his time as an offensive coordinator. He led Auburn with 8 touchdown receptions during its 2010 national championship season. In 2011 and 2012, Blake was the team’s leading receiver.
The Tigers also snagged Eguae from Texas around that time, too. The defensive end wrapped up his Auburn career in Malzahn’s first season as head coach — when the program went back to the national title game.
Auburn reached toward Texas to pick up James the season after Eguae left the program. Two years later, Martin arrived after the release from his Baylor scholarship.
And when Auburn needed to strengthen its quarterback position, it went back into Texas and signed the nation’s No. 1 JUCO transfer in Stidham. But that wasn’t the Tigers’ first recruitment of the Stephenville native. Auburn tried to sign him out of high school.
“We recruited him coming out, but we kind of knew that it was going to be real tough for him to get out of the state of Texas at the time,” Malzahn said in December. “We’re glad to have him. He’s got three years left; I think that’s good too. He’ll come in and compete for the job.”
Malzahn had ties to the state of Texas through former Baylor head coach Art Briles, who is a close friend of his.
Those ties to Texas strengthened over the weekend when Malzahn hired Larry Porter as Auburn’s new tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator. Porter coached running backs at Texas during the 2013 season.
When he was Les Miles’ running backs coach and top recruiter at LSU, he routinely went into the Lone Star State and snatched top-tier talent. Some of Porter’s biggest Texas recruits include Jarrett Lee, Craig Loston, Russell Shepard and Terrance Toliver.
While Auburn didn’t sign a Texan in its 2017 class other than Stidham, SEC Country Auburn recruiting writer Benjamin Wolk says the Tigers are recruiting more players from there than usual so far in the 2018 cycle. According to Wolk, Auburn is “seriously recruiting” at least nine targets from Texas at the moment.
On Monday, Texas wide receiver Tommy Bush became the latest addition to that growing list:
— Tommy Bush (@TheTommyBush11) February 13, 2017
Auburn could pluck another transfer from the state of Texas this offseason, too. According to Keith Niebuhr of Auburn Undercover, former Top 50 recruit and Texas Tech transfer Breiden Fehoko will visit the Tigers next month.
Niebuhr also reported that Stidham, who once was committed to Texas Tech, is helping Auburn with Fehoko’s recruitment. While Fehoko isn’t a native Texan — he’s originally from Hawaii — he’d be another recruiting win from the state for Auburn.
Auburn’s geographic location makes it easy for the Tigers to recruit top talent from nearby states. All but three of their signees in the class of 2017 were originally from states other than Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
However, Texas is a premier hot bed for high school football talent year in and year out. It’s a battleground state for powerhouse programs all over the country.
In the 2017 cycle, schools such as Ohio State, LSU and Florida State proved outsiders could come in and take advantage of recent downturns at Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor. Only two Top 10 recruits from Texas stayed in-state — neither were Top 5 — and the Longhorns’ highest-rated signee was No. 20 in the state.
Since Gus Malzahn first arrived on the Plains, Auburn has swooped into the Lone Star State and picked up several impact players. The Tigers will hope Stidham can be the program-changing quarterback it needs — and one who can boost their reputation in Texas.
With Porter now on the scene, too, what was uncharted territory for the Tigers can continue to become a treasured state for talent.