Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Auburn Tigers football recruiting notebook with Auburn beat writer Benjamin Wolk. Today, we recap an untold story about linebacker target Tyler Taylor and his high school teammate, Derrick Brown.
A new Tyler Taylor-Derrick Brown story
Let’s rewind to this time last year.
A top target from Lanier High School in Buford, Ga., was in the throws of a decision. Derrick Brown, Georgia’s No. 1 prospect in 2016, drew interest from every school with a defensive line. He narrowed his options to a few SEC contenders. Brown did his official visit diligence.
Then, on National Signing Day, Brown surprisingly committed to the Tigers over home-state Georgia.
Fast forward to the present.
A top target from Lanier High School is in the throws of a decision. Tyler Taylor, the No. 10 inside linebacker in the nation, has narrowed his decision to Auburn and LSU. It isn’t a surprise that Taylor’s recruitment draws the obvious question: What role does Brown play in your decision?
To this point, Taylor has acknowledged the friendship. The two played for the same Lanier High front seven in 2016. Taylor and Brown communicate on a fairly regular basis. Brown gives Taylor his honest opinion on Auburn, the recruiting process and any other noteworthy questions or concerns. When Taylor took his OV last weekend, he spent plenty of time with his good friend and former teammate.
But Taylor hasn’t ever overplayed Brown’s role in his recruitment because, as Brown has advised, Taylor needs to make the decision that is in his own personal interest. It’s generally provided responses like this one on Aug. 5;
“Sometimes, we won’t even talk about football. He’ll just talk to me as a mentor,” Taylor told SEC Country in August. “When we talk about Auburn, I can tell it comes easy to him. He really likes it. Some people try to make it seem like it’s better than what it really is. He gives it to me 100 percent.”
Or this one on Nov. 11:
“The last time I talked to him was when he came down for homecoming. He don’t like to do that type of recruiting stuff. He didn’t like when people tried to tell him where to go and all that,” Taylor said. “He just gives me my space. He understands the process and knows I’m going to make the best choice for me.”
Or this one last weekend after his official visit:
“It was fun. He didn’t really talk about recruiting that much,” Taylor said. “He said he didn’t want to put any pressure on me. He wants me to make the best decision for me.”
But the truth is — as Taylor’s mother revealed earlier in the week — Brown has had a much deeper connection to Taylor’s career path than just his college decision.
When Taylor was a high school freshman, he left Duluth High School for a new destination that would provide him with a better chance to shine on the football field. Taylor and his mother wanted to remain in Gwinnett County, which would cost Taylor his sophomore year of eligibility, so the duo had to make a calculated decision.
The search took the Taylors to a notable destination.
“As we brainstormed, we did a lot of research on Derrick Brown. We concluded this guy has the potential to be the No. 1 in the state. We watched his film. We did everything. From that, we said that Lanier is going to be our choice for football,” Taylor’s mother, Akita, told SEC Country. “As long as they see Derrick, they’re going to see you, if you do what you’re supposed to do.”
It turned out to be a wise decision. Brown did, in fact, become the No. 1 player in Georgia. Taylor, too, stepped into his own role as an SEC-caliber football prospect. He grew into his 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame and became a versatile linebacker for Lanier. It thrust him up the national rankings — to where he is now at No. 248 nationally.
Taylor now finds himself in the same position as a season ago. Multiple worthy programs are chasing, but only one can win out. Auburn is firmly in the mix.
Akita Taylor knows it isn’t a coincidence.
“It’s interesting that Derrick Brown brought us to Lanier, so they have a very good relationship together. I guess when you look at it like that, it’s almost like, ‘Well, I came to Lanier because of you, and we had a great relationship, and we gambled. It worked out.’ It’s almost like, ‘Hey, why not do the same thing?'” Akita Taylor said. “I really feel like him and Derrick complement each other.”
Taylor’s relationship with his mother was well-documented Wednesday. The Brown connection in Auburn will only help the Tigers as Taylor arrives at his final decision.
Brown is a big reason why.
“Derrick has been there for a year, so I know that would be a person that I could call at any point in time,” Akita Taylor said. “That’s a person I could call his parents at any point in time and say, ‘Hey, tell Derrick this or this’ to help keep Tyler grounded. They have a great relationship.”
Tyler Taylor, from an intel standpoint
Not much has been made available since I spoke with Akita Taylor about the Auburn-LSU battle.
Both coaching staffs were able to take in-home visits Wednesday, which will likely be the last points of contact prior to the eventual decision. Expect the choice to be finalized by end-of-day Thursday. Taylor may choose to hold off on a public announcement, but coaching staffs — at the very minimum — will likely be made aware of his decision at some point Thursday, unless something drastically changes during the Thursday visits.
The fact Auburn and LSU both went in-home Wednesday is just another indicator the decision is on the immediate horizon. This decision could really go either way. Recruits often mention listing pros and cons, real or imaginary, that help them narrow down their choices. Taylor’s lists for Auburn vs. LSU would look a little like this:
Auburn pros: Great relationship with Travis Williams. Closest school to home. Friendship with Derrick Brown. Program that Akita Taylor might consider the best among his options. Auburn cons: Loaded linebacker depth chart. Three committed linebackers already in 2017.
LSU pros: One committed linebacker so far in 2017. Early playing time promises. Linebacker development history of Dave Aranda. Perceived coaching stability under first-year head coach Ed Orgeron. LSU cons: Much farther from home. Heavy communication began late in the process.
To decipher the “right” answer from those two is purely subjective.
You could ask 1,000 recruits Program X or Program Y with those pros and cons and you might see a 500-500 vote split. Hence, the difficulty in Taylor’s decision. Hence, why the terms “grateful” and “overwhelming” — though seemingly contradictory — are regulars in Akita Taylor’s vocabulary.
It should be noted, for those interested in such things, that the first Crystal Ball selection has been placed for LSU. If I had one of those, I’m not sure I’d be willing to place it one way or the other just yet (Yes, I know Taylor’s decision could come at any time.).
Auburn has always been a serious communicator and contender for Taylor. That should help. There’s no doubt Taylor’s relationship with his mother has been a guiding force through his entire life, his recruitment included, so staying closer to her would be an Auburn advantage. The only anti-Auburn claim is guaranteed early playing time, which is a blessing and a curse.
Notably, however, LSU is in the running for two other linebackers. Willie Gay might not decide until National Signing Day, but LSU has been the popular trend lately. But he’s an outside linebacker and would have much less of an effect on Taylor’s decision.
Jacob Phillips is a different story. LSU is attempting to flip the nation’s No. 1 inside linebacker from Oklahoma — coincidentally, a school Taylor recently knocked down a peg on his list. Phillips’ decision is in the “soon” category, but whether that will dictate Taylor’s timeline is unknown.
I’m told LSU would potentially be able to take all three (Gay, Taylor and Phillips), but it’s unknown how that might affect Taylor’s perception of the depth chart. Without the depth-chart edge, Auburn seems to be a no-brainer.
Don’t count out the Longhorns
Now, we transition from the Lanier Longhorns to the Texas Longhorns.
Ryan Johnson announced via Twitter on Thursday that Texas will host him on an official visit this weekend. Johnson originally planned to visit Alabama the last weekend, but a crowded Crimson Tide class rearranged his schedule. Johnson wasn’t sure he’d make it to Texas or USC, but the Longhorns won out.
?OV To The University of Texas this weekend! Hook Em??. Ready to see Austin for the first time and, UT fans, some of the BEST, show love?? pic.twitter.com/wQg0xvUOek
— Ryan Johnson 4⃣4⃣ (@ryanjohnson_50) January 26, 2017
After Johnson’s visit to Auburn, it appeared to be an Auburn-Stanford battle. Johnson recently received admission to Stanford. That was a big plot twist. Auburn gave him an A-plus visit. But Tom Herman & Co. have been on Johnson for a while. They visited Johnson’s home the same day last week as Gus Malzahn.
Johnson hasn’t said much about Texas throughout his recruitment, but here’s a small taste of how the Longhorns fit in — as told by Johnson at the Alabama-Mississippi all-star game.
“It’s a program with a lot of good history. I don’t want to just rule them out because of the coaching staff change. Tom Herman and the D-line coach, they reached out to me immediately. They’ve stressed the issue that they need D-linemen,” Johnson said. “I just don’t want to rule them out because once they get it together, it’s going to be a hard team to stop.”
What the new OL offer means
It’s been a common theme throughout the entire football season and January recruiting cycle: Who will be the mystery fourth lineman added to the 2017 class?
Auburn is thrilled with the Calvin Ashley, Austin Troxell and Nick Brahms combination already in place. The Tigers have carefully evaluated nearly a dozen prospects for the final spot in Herb Hand’s first full offensive line class. The names that have been mentioned most regularly are as follows:
- Jordan Tucker
- Kai-Leon Herbert
- Poutasi Poutasi
- George Moore
- Matthew Tanner
Tucker committed to North Carolina before receiving an offer. Herbert committed to Miami on Thursday, which helped explain one of Auburn’s moves earlier in the day. Poutasi hasn’t received an offer yet, and it’s not clear that will happen at all. Moore won’t qualify for SEC play because of a missing math class, 247Sports reported.
That leaves Tanner, who Auburn offered Wednesday, just a day after hosting Hand and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey.
Tanner’s dimensions are startling — all 6-foot-7 and 345 pounds of him. Auburn has two tackles in the class and Brahms, an interior lineman who will likely end up at center. For balance in the 2017 class, a guard addition makes some sense, though an incoming freshman would be the more understandable option with Marquel Harrell, Braden Smith and Mike Horton already clogging up the depth chart there.
Tanner has three years to play only two seasons, so he would be the type of addition a staff would expect to insert into the rotation immediately. He said he will likely commit this weekend if everything goes as planned, but Tanner also said Tuesday after the Auburn in-home visit that an offer would encourage him to take an official visit.
It’s unknown at this time if the offer was the sole indication of Auburn’s top priority on the O-line, or if it was a way to have Tanner on campus for one last evaluation between Tanner, Poutasi or some other unknown target.
New athletic facility will help recruiting
If you haven’t seen, Auburn has plans for a nifty new facility at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Facilities are all the rage in the college football and recruiting world nowadays. It’s weight rooms one day. It’s locker rooms the next. It’s dining halls after that. Then, it’s indoor practice facilities and dorm rooms and game rooms.
Now, it’s time for the game day facility enhancements. My colleague, Justin Ferguson, outlined many of the plans for the facility that is expected to be finished by the 2018 football season. It includes a locker room upgrade and a press box change.
But perhaps the most notable addition is the recruiting aspect, which will be another place for recruits to mingle and enjoy the Plains. There’s no telling what Auburn’s recruiting facility will include (If the new game room is any sign, the Tigers have some brilliant ideas,), but these things are almost a must-have in the recruiting market today.
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