Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Auburn Tigers football recruiting notebook with Auburn beat writer Benjamin Wolk. Today, we update the official visitors expected on the Plains this weekend and other important official visitors who will go elsewhere.
Official visits: The granddaddy of them all
For a week with little real recruiting action, a lot happened in seven days.
Last week, I pre-capped the Jan. 13 official visit weekend. It included four visitors: Alec Jackson, Kai-Leon Herbert, Thomas Johnston and Poutasi Poutasi. Jackson closed down his recruitment. Herbert thrust Auburn into his top group alongside Florida and Miami — and, oh, yeah, Michigan. Johnston gave the Tigers a legitimate chance after his initial pushback to play H-back.
That’s a busy week for Auburn’s supposed “down weekend” as far as official visits go.
This one upcoming couldn’t be more different in terms of pre-weekend expectations. The biggest commit of the 2017 class, Calvin Ashley, will make his long-awaited return to Auburn. All three committed defensive backs will make their first trip to Auburn since the secondary coach switch. Three uncommitted prospects, reasonably speaking, all could be committed to the Tigers within a week of their officials.
To say this weekend is a high-stakes recruiting weekend wouldn’t do it justice. Here’s a full look at all the known visitors — eight commits and four targets. If surprise visitors emerge, which is possible, their names will be added to the list.
Note: To start, Devon Hunter is not included in the list (more below).
- 5-star OL commit Calvin Ashley, Washington D.C.: Ashley has been a part of rumors throughout the fall and spring. Ashley made two public announcements in a one-week span that sounded an awful lot like closing down his recruitment. His official visit should do everything it needs to convince Ashley that it’s home, after all. It’s been so long since the 5-star prospect made it to Auburn that some of his wavering — real or perceived — had to do more with losing touch with the place he’d fallen in love with two summers ago. I’d expect this to go swimmingly and Auburn to secure the highest-ranked player in the 2017 class.
- 4-star LB commit Tadarian Moultry, Birmingham (Ala.): Moultry, who recently received his fifth star from 247Sports, will take his official visit and reunite the 2017 linebacker class. He hasn’t been a recruit Auburn has had to worry about since he committed last summer. This is a final opportunity for Moultry to learn his fit — Buck DE or LB? — and other day-to-day lifestyle needs to be successful for the Tigers.
- 4-star OL commit Austin Troxell, Madison (Ala.): Much like Moultry, Troxell was ready to sign the second he committed. He’s undergoing right knee rehabilitation after a torn ACL early in his Madison Academy (Ala.) season. This will be the only official visit Troxell takes. Ashley, Troxell and Nick Brahms will be on campus at the same time, which should be even more critical in securing Ashley for good, if that isn’t already a certainty.
- 4-star ATH commit Alaric Williams, Gadsden (Ala.): Williams has been on the Plains plenty since his commitment last summer. He attended several games throughout the fall. He already has taken one other official visit to Nebraska because of a prior staff relationship there. Williams is all-in on Auburn assuming he qualifies, which is becoming more and more likely. This official visit will give Williams a chance to enjoy the campus with several of his future teammates.
- 3-star safety commit Carlito Gonzalez, Stone Mountain (Ga.): Gonzalez only made one trip to Auburn this fall. He’s eager to return to campus for his official visit with the three other defensive back commits who aren’t enrolled yet. Gonzalez expressed public doubts regarding his commitment after the Wesley McGriff move, but that seems to be in the past. The official visit should close it down once and for all with National Signing Day so close.
- 3-star WR commit Noah Igbinoghene, Trussville (Ala.): Here’s another example of someone who hasn’t had a ton of time in Auburn. Igbinoghene committed to the Tigers on Thanksgiving after a one-day unofficial visit late in the season. He hasn’t shown interest anywhere else, and Auburn won’t let its lone wide receiver commit get away.
- 3-star safety commit Jordyn Peters, Muscle Shoals (Ala.): Peters, like Gonzalez, has been reassured by the McGriff-to-Greg Brown secondary coach change. He has been “solidly committed” to Auburn for some time. That’s been firm, but Peters suggested he planned a Virginia Tech official visit. There is only one more weekend for that. I’d expect a situation like Jackson last weekend. He might enter with other official visit plans, but he won’t leave with any.
- 3-star CB commit Traivon Leonard, West Palm Beach (Fla.): This will be the end of the recruiting road for Leonard, too. Florida has expressed interest in Leonard lately, but he has received enough attention from Scott Fountain and Brown to ensure Auburn is the right spot for him. He probably has had less time in Auburn than anybody committed to the Tigers now, so this will give Leonard a good idea of what to expect with less than two weeks until National Signing Day.
- 4-star DL target Ryan Johnson, Mobile (Ala.): It’s hard to use the word priority in a weekend with so many of them, but Johnson might be top dog. Auburn’s need on the defensive line is tough to explain. The Tigers lose two to the draft this year. They have plenty of depth remaining. Only one is in the 2017 class. Auburn wants to add another lineman or two, but it doesn’t need to press. But Auburn’s focus has been on Johnson. Auburn went to see Johnson on Monday with Gus Malzahn and the entire defensive staff. That set the tone for the OV weekend to come. Johnson wants to decide a few days before Signing Day, which could mean by the end of the next week. The official visit will go a long way in confirming his Auburn interest.
- 4-star LB target Tyler Taylor, Buford (Ga.): Taylor is one of two targets who realistically could be Auburn commits within 24 hours of leaving the Plains. The Tigers’ top linebacker target plans to announce his decision shortly after his official visit to Auburn. Oklahoma is the team to watch here for Auburn. LSU, with a late official visit, has become a legitimate contender for Taylor. Auburn wants Taylor to be the fourth and final addition at the position (Thomas Johnston, notwithstanding) in the 2017 class. KJ Britt and Chandler Wooten are enrolled and will be on board to recruit. Moultry will be the other piece. It all makes sense for Travis Williams’ family-oriented linebacker group to gain a new member with everybody on campus this weekend.
- 3-star FB target Chase Lasater, Jacksonville (Fla.): Lasater has made his public feelings well-known about Auburn. The Tigers lead, and a commitment could be on the horizon. Auburn hosted Johnston as a fullback prospect last week, and it’s not certain whether there is a pecking order or a first-to-commit approach with Lasater and Johnston. I anticipate Lasater’s official visit will confirm to him that he wants to commit to the Tigers. Johnston doesn’t plan to decide until Jan. 26 and still has an Ole Miss official visit.
- 4-star DE target Jarez Parks, Sebastian (Fla.): Parks is the highest-ranked target set to visit the Plains this weekend. It should be noted, Parks received helicopter treatment from Nick Saban on Wednesday. The Crimson Tide are the favorites with Parks. Auburn also will play catch-up with a few other teams. But Parks said at the U.S. Army All-American Game that Auburn has surprised him. If the Tigers surprise him with another big weekend, Parks’ decision could become tougher.
Gus Malzahn tracker
Malzahn has been a busy man recruiting-wise despite rampant speculation about his offensive coordinator search. He made several rounds on Monday. Malzahn saw at least two prospects on Wednesday: Joey Gatewood and Devon Hunter.
Gatewood is the prized jewel of the 2018 class. He was a Rhett Lashlee commit, through and through. Auburn doesn’t want him to get way. Other schools are calling. Texas offered on Wednesday. At least two historic Power 5 programs were in contact with Gatewood less than an hour after Lashlee’s departure, a source told SEC Country.
But Gatewood is impressed by Auburn’s prioritization. The Tigers are thick in 2017 traffic, and Malzahn is taking time to stop by Gatewood’s school — he can’t see Gatewood because of an NCAA rule. Gatewood will attend Auburn’s junior day on Jan. 28.
As for Hunter, he announces his decision on Friday. Hunter originally planned to OV to Auburn this weekend. I haven’t been able to confirm 100 percent one way or the other, but it seems logistically close to impossible for an official to the Plains to happen this weekend. It’s becoming increasingly less likely Hunter lands with Auburn — though Malzahn is fresh off a visit to Chesapeake (Va.) on Wednesday night.
There isn’t much to report from that visit, but Auburn has lost traction here since McGriff’s exit to Ole Miss. Virginia Tech is the home-state leader. Florida is trending big-time.
Another notable visit:
Kodi Burns swung by Pine Forest High in Pensacola, Fla., on Wednesday. That’s the home of 2018 wide receiver prospect Jacob Copeland. The 6-foot-1, 188-pound wide receiver is the No. 79 overall prospect in the country for the 2018 class. Copeland told SEC Country he most likely will attend Auburn’s junior day next weekend. He has communicated with Gatewood about attending the event.
Bad-news update from un-offered WR
In the last projection, Marlon Williams made the list at wide receiver. That was selected on the basis that I don’t like Auburn’s chances with Oliver Martin and Henry Ruggs. Williams is a former USC commit who de-committed recently. Auburn hasn’t offered, but with a few misses, Williams was a likely backup candidate to bring on a second wide receiver in the 2017 class.
That isn’t a high likelihood anymore.
Williams told SEC Country last weekend that Burns planned to visit him on Monday. That didn’t happen. If an offer comes, it seems like it will be issued as a clear backup plan. Williams has other offers and will explore those. An Auburn official visit isn’t likely, and Williams confirmed it would be nearly impossible for the Tigers now.
He officially visited Central Florida last weekend. Williams will go to Tennessee and LSU the next two.
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