Last week, Tyree Johnson confirmed his Auburn interest — albeit allegedly minor.
Johnson is Auburn commit Calvin Ashley’s high school teammate at St. John’s College in Washington, D.C. He told SEC Country last week that Ashley is doing a tremendous sales job for the Tigers, which should be considered positive recruiting news. Despite Ashley’s pitch, and his official visit plans, Johnson said he is “99.9 percent” committed to Texas A&M.
But the follow-up question elicited an intriguing response. Does one of the other schools — Auburn, Maryland or Michigan State — have to win him over? Or do the Aggies have to do something negative to drop down a peg?
“A&M doesn’t have to do anything wrong necessarily,” Johnson said. “That’s why I’m doing the officials because I’m trying to make sure I’m making the right decision. If I really like a place then it could change things.”
Now let’s not offer any false optimism.
That was Johnson being honest. If Auburn or Michigan State presents home-run visits, who knows. But the Aggies find themselves in a safe position as they approach the upcoming contact period and National Signing Day. In fact, his experience last week in Orlando, Fla., added to that.
“It’d be hard to flip me. Being (at the Under Armour All-America Game) with the A&M commits committed here. I’ve built a relationship that makes me want to go even more.”
It sounds like 99.9 percent might’ve moved to 99.99 percent.
Auburn and Ashley won’t stop trying. Johnson will officially visit Michigan State on Jan. 13. He will take his Texas A&M official on Jan. 20. Johnson’s last trip of the cycle will be to Auburn on Jan. 28, giving the Tigers the final stab at Johnson.
For Auburn, it might be in the Tigers’ best interest for Michigan State to really impress Johnson on his official visit. That would at least get him in the potential flip mindset, though the Aggies visit the following week might put a damper on that. Really, it will come down to how much Auburn is able to show a need for Johnson and how much the Ashley factor comes into play.
“Auburn is in the SEC, and I love the SEC,” Johnson said. “From what I hear, Auburn is a very good town, a very good fan base. I want to check that out, too. My teammate Calvin Ashley being committed there is a big deal.”
On the topic of flips …
Auburn doesn’t have a flurry of offers out to uncommitted prospects. The Tigers have about five or so spots to fill in the Class of 2017. A few new offers likely will drop soon, but for now, the staff is playing the wait-and-see game.
They’re also attempting to — as seen with Johnson above — flip a few prospects from other schools. Auburn probably is trying this on a larger scale than is even public now, but some commits from high-profile institutions remain heavily on Auburn’s radar.
Case in point: Michigan offensive line commit Kai-Leon Herbert.
The offensive lineman from American Heritage (Fla.) chose Michigan in July. Auburn, Miami and Florida haven’t slowed their recruiting efforts. Herbert has a full slate of official visits in January to that trio of suitors.
Despite his firm commitment, Herbert is keeping his options open.
“Who’s going to take care of me? Not only as an athlete, or a student, but also as a human being. All these coaches are showing really great feelings toward me and all that,” Herbert said. “I know when I get to college, the switch is going to flip. I want a coach who is going to snap on me, yes. But one that’s also going to lift me up and show me what’s right to do.”
One thing that stood out to me is what it will take to land Herbert. He doesn’t want a crazy display or an attempt to downplay Michigan. He said the other schools don’t have to “show or convince” him. They just have to prove that’s where he’d feel most comfortable for the next four years.
He also doesn’t expect a flashy re-commitment ceremony or anything like that, which probably plays in Michigan’s favor.
“I’ll just probably tweet something out. I’m not doing a National Signing Day thing,” Herbert said.
Herbert will take his first official visit of the contact period to Auburn on Jan. 13. Then it’s Miami on Jan. 20 and Florida on Jan. 28. The Tigers will need to make a big, early impression if they hope to hold off the two in-state schools and Michigan for Herbert’s commitment.
Auburn won’t have to take any huge measures, however. Herbert already has a high impression of the Tigers.
“Coach Herb Hand, he’s a really great coach from what I’ve seen. He just tells me they need linemen. That’s the reason I’m taking a trip,” Herbert said. “I could definitely see myself going there. The campus and people of Auburn are really great. It’s something to look at.”
On the topic of offensive line …
As mentioned above, Auburn is taking a small-net approach. Meaning, the Tigers don’t have a ton of committable offers out now. That likely will change once the contact period approaches and as a few of these late dead-period announcements are made.
One of those decisions takes place later Thursday.
Adrian Ealy, a 6-foot-7 offensive tackle from Louisiana, will decide at noon ET on Thursday via one of the famed Bleacher Report commitment videos. Ealy, a 4-star prospect, is the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country and the No. 266 overall prospect. He will choose between Arizona, Oklahoma, LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State.
Ealy hasn’t been a giant blip on the radar for the Tigers. Hand visited Ealy during the contact period in December, and Ealy showed his public appreciation for that on social media. He long has been considered an Oklahoma lean, with 56 percent of the 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions in the Sooners’ favor (hopefully for Auburn’s sake he wasn’t watching the Sugar Bowl).
I don’t expect Ealy to select the Tigers, but it’s still something to watch out for about noon.
Luckily for Auburn, Braden Smith announced his senior-season return on Wednesday, so there won’t be any kind of desperation for depth.