In one simple move, Auburn went from favorite to underdog.
Devon Hunter, the 4-star safety from Virginia, narrowed his options and prepared for a Christmas Eve decision. If he made that choice, there was a good chance Auburn would’ve been his selection despite the general assumption that Virginia Tech was the leader.
A source close to Hunter’s recruitment told SEC Country that, prior to Wesley McGriff’s departure, Hunter felt comfortable with his decision to select the Tigers. Once McGriff left, Auburn dropped a few pegs. Now the Tigers are working to move back into contention.
“Basically I’ve got a list in my house actually of all the pros and cons for the schools. The schools I have the most pros in and like the most, I circle the answers. It’s kinda evened up right now. That’s why I pushed back my decision. I still need to check out the little things with the schools on my officials,” Hunter said. “I would say Virginia Tech has about two more pros than everyone else.”
Auburn held the advantage at one point, but that had a lot to do with the relationship Hunter built with McGriff. The Tigers haven’t calmed communication with Hunter just because McGriff is out. Those duties have now transferred to Auburn linebackers coach Travis Williams who will oversee Hunter’s recruitment until the new secondary coach is named.
Tigers commit Tadarian Moultry also is using his time in San Antonio for the U.S. Army Bowl to give Hunter his pitch.
But as Hunter admitted, the official visits in January will be a determinant for who lands the safety’s services. For now, Auburn is jockeying for position to even score one of those official visits.
The primary reason: McGriff.
He has two OVs planned. Hunter will visit Florida on Jan. 13. Alabama “should” receive the last official visit on Jan. 28. The week in between that?
“That should be Auburn or Ole Miss,” Hunter said.
There it is. The McGriff effect at work.
It shows how integral McGriff was to landing elite defensive backs. Christopher Henderson and CJ Avery both admitted last week at the Under Armour All-America Game that McGriff’s exit shifted their impressions of Auburn. Luckily for the Tigers, they have a solid quartet already on board — Malcolm Askew, Jordyn Peters, Carlito Gonzalez and Traivon Leonard — who look like they’ll stick around no matter what.
But Hunter is the big prize. Auburn will shoot to receive the official visit over Ole Miss and McGriff. If the Tigers can do that, Hunter will likely show a similar appreciation for the program, just as he has on his many previous visits.
“Auburn, I love that school. The personality of the school is really nice. The coaches there are like family. The players are like family,” Hunter said. “They play the best guys, too, so I love that about Auburn. They’re very competitive.”
The source close to Hunter’s recruitment said he expects Auburn to outplay Ole Miss for the final official visit. The Tigers were originally planned for the weekend of Jan. 19-20. That likely won’t change, though if anyone could do it, McGriff would be the one — another symbol of McGriff’s importance in Hunter’s decision.
Hunter has already taken official visits to North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Florida remains. So does a likely final weekend OV to Alabama. Hunter could shoot up the Tide’s board late depending how other pieces fall, though Alabama’s surprise commitment from safety Xavier McKinney provides less of a need there.
The Hokies, as Hunter admitted, hold a narrow edge right now.
“That’s only because it’s local to home and I know a lot of people there,” Hunter said.
Hunter admitted he expects to feel “comfortable” or “at home” wherever he chooses. For a moment, that could’ve been Auburn.
With the season out of the way, the Tigers staff can now turn its focus to announcing a secondary coach. If Auburn has a chance of re-securing Hunter, the best bet will be a splash hire at defensive backs coach. If not, McGriff might strike once again and steal away the Auburn official visit. Ole Miss could get it instead.
Hunter will take all his official visits before deciding, but he plans to announce before National Signing Day. That means if his Alabama official visit falls through, he could end up making his decision shortly after that Jan. 20 visit — yet another reason Auburn needs that OV.
Auburn behind for top WR target
Alabama quarterback commit Tua Tagovailoa said Ruggs narrowed his decision to two schools: Alabama and Florida State. Ruggs confirmed Tuesday that Tagovailoa might’ve “misinterpreted” what he was saying because all five of his top schools — Alabama, FSU, Auburn, Florida and Penn State — remain in it.
“Well, I’m still down to my top five. He probably misinterpreted things a little,” Ruggs said. “I’d say out of the top five, those two are my favorites right now. But I don’t have a leader.”
Ruggs is the top receiver commodity for most of those schools. Alabama and Florida State are the only two schools that Ruggs knows “for a fact” will receive an official visit in January. He’ll go to Tallahassee on Jan. 13 and Tuscaloosa on Jan. 20. That leaves the last official visit weekend open, plus some mid-week opportunities.
Alabama appears to be the odds-on favorite at this time because of the in-state pull.
“They pretty much saying to stay at home,” Ruggs said. “You know, the rivalry of the Iron Bowl and how big it is for state guys to stay in state.”
That last bit of that could be good news or bad news about Ruggs. It shows he understands the importance of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry. He recognizes what it means for the top in-state talent to remain inside the Alabama border.
Unfortunately for Auburn, it seems like the Crimson Tide have a much higher chance of making that happen. In fact, the Tigers might be jostling just to get on an even playing field with out-of-state, ACC-school Florida State.
—Quotes provided by SEC Country’s Jesse Simonton