Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Auburn Tigers football recruiting notebook with Auburn recruiting beat writer Benjamin Wolk. It’s Thursday, and SEC Country gets an update from in-state linebacker Vonta Bentley. Also, the Tigers passed out a key 2020 offer. And what’s the latest Owen Pappoe buzz?
In-state LB clarifies Auburn’s standing among top schools
When Vonta Bentley spoke with SEC Country last month, his main message wasn’t great news for Auburn.
Bentley called Clemson his leader. That hasn’t changed. But what was unnerving to the Auburn side was how Bentley considered the Tigers to be far on the outside compared to Clemson and Alabama. Based on his comments, however, it seemed like the Auburn staff wasn’t making as much of a push for the Jackson-Olin (Ala.) linebacker as a few other prospects in the 2019 class.
That wasn’t Auburn’s intent, several sources have made clear.
Bentley is among the Tigers’ favorite linebackers in that class, and they made sure to correct the record in short order. After a Clemson visit earlier this month, Bentley drove through Auburn with a few of his teammates to drop off defensive tackle signee Coynis Miller who was set for a multi-day stay.
On that trip — his second this spring — Bentley noticed an increase level of attention and interest from the Tigers.
“I’d say most of the coaching staff are writing letters to me now after that little visit I took up there,” Bentley told SEC Country. “All the coaches, they be communicating with me. They’re always pumped up, excited, loud. I’ll say that. They’re always screaming. T-Will [linebackers coach Travis Williams] was all shouting, ‘Vonta’s here, Vonta’s here,’ when I got there. That was funny.”
It has caused a shift for Bentley.
Auburn is no longer on the outside looking in. He still refers to Clemson as his leader and admits other programs are going to have to show him something more to top Dabo Swinney and Co. But Auburn is in the conversation now with Bentley telling SEC Country that Auburn has moved into the No. 2 spot above Alabama (the Crimson Tide are expected to bring in a star-studded linebacker class and Bentley isn’t feeling as much love).
While Auburn hasn’t recruited him the hardest yet, the Tigers are likely to change that tune.
Williams already got that started on Bentley’s most recent visit.
“He says basically what Clemson says. He wants me, that I’m a top player. He sat me down to watch my film,” Bentley said. “Going over stuff, he was just being real with me. He told me things I needed to get better at. That’s what I like about him. He wasn’t just telling me what I was great at, but stuff I need to work on too. I really like that.”
The one thing that separates Clemson: his connection with Swinney.
Bentley said when he goes there he always spends time with Swinney in his office. Those conversations range from football to many non-football topics. He has started to receive similar treatment at Auburn with Gus Malzahn. Bentley visited earlier this spring with his mother, which gave him the first look into Malzahn and his recruiting approach.
“I went to his office and talked to him for a pretty good minute. I had went with my coach and sat in there just talking and chopping it up. I would say Clemson head coach and Auburn head coach are the ones talking to me the most,” Bentley said. “At Alabama, I’ll only talk to coach Saban after practice or something like that and say he needs some linebackers.”
Bentley’s process isn’t close to complete.
He wants to take his time with his commitment, perhaps looking toward an end-of-season decision. Bentley wouldn’t mind waiting until National Signing Day, but he mentioned the uncertainty of being able to wait that long because of numbers restrictions his top schools might have at linebacker. In other words, he wouldn’t want to wait so long his school of choice didn’t have an open scholarship for him.
Still, Bentley hopes to check out a few more schools, namely LSU, Tennessee and Ole Miss.
As he closes in on his decision, the relationship between Auburn and Jackson-Olin will be the key. TD Moultry and Miller have started that pipeline the last two recruiting classes. Bentley confirmed that can only help Auburn come decision time.
“I’d say as far as Auburn, it does help. We can catch up with the players that are down there. We can hear how Auburn really is and what they like about it. We’re in touch with TD and Coynis, so that’s going to help with other players from J-O,” Bentley said. “It’s always going to be an advantage when you can talk to one of the players who’s already down there. You can learn why they like it, which I can tell why they like it because those coaches are pumped up and have fun while still handling their business.”
2020 Hoover (Ala.) QB lands Auburn offer
With its 2019 quarterback recruiting shored up, Auburn finds itself in the enviable position of being able to look ahead.
Many of Auburn’s SEC competitors are in search of their 2019 quarterback. The Tigers have that in Bo Nix. Now, Auburn is able to scour the 2020 quarterback market that is rich with talent — both in-state and out-of-state.
As far as in-state prospects go, Hoover (Ala.) quarterback Robby Ashford may be the one who generates the most buzz in 2020. Ashford picked up an offer from Auburn on Thursday to become, by my count, the fifth uncommitted quarterback offer for the Tigers in the 2020 class.
Ashford passes the eye test at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds. He also passes the high school program test as a member of Hoover’s state championship history. Despite it being his sophomore season, Ashford had several standout performances on the way to the Buccaneers’ state championship. It likely helped having Auburn signee Shedrick Jackson and Tigers commit George Pickens as receivers.
Ashford has visited Auburn several times in the last year, most recently for a spring junior day.
Quick update on 5-star LB Owen Pappoe
As 5-star linebacker Owen Pappoe told SEC Country, he was going to take Athens and Auburn visits before his May 1 commitment.
Pappoe took care of part of that this week.
The 5-star linebacker from Grayson High School (Loganville, Ga.) visited Georgia on Wednesday with his mother, SEC Country confirmed. This didn’t come as a surprise to the Auburn staff who has stayed in regular communication with Pappoe as it pertains to his visits elsewhere. It’s important to note the Tigers aren’t being caught off guard by this visit because it shows a streamlining of communication between the two sides.
With that said, it’s important for Auburn to be weary of Georgia.
The Bulldogs have been the odds-on favorites to land Pappoe since he started getting recruited at a high level in ninth grade. Auburn has come on strong here. Pappoe will be the first to admit that even if he isn’t tipping his hand prior to the May 1 decision.
So the question I know I’ll be asked: Does this do anything to your Auburn prediction?
Not for now. As I’ve said in the past, Georgia won’t go away quietly in this one. The Bulldogs have been a favorite for a while, and in the eyes of many, that narrative hasn’t changed simply because of the recent Auburn interest. Still, my sourcing supports the belief the Tigers will be the choice on May 1.
But, needless to say, this won’t be the last Pappoe update in the next two weeks.
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