Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Auburn Tigers football recruiting notebook with Auburn recruiting beat writer Benjamin Wolk. It’s Thursday, and SEC Country has the inside scoop on how all of Auburn’s relevant National Signing Day decision unfolded.
3-star defensive lineman Caleb Johnson — Auburn
- Caleb Johnson didn’t expect to be an Auburn Tiger before the calendar turned to 2018. When I went to go see Johnson in September — shortly after putting him in my August class projection (humble brag) — all he wanted to talk about was Georgia and Tennessee. Those were the two schools he really liked. Those were the two schools he wanted to visit. As for Auburn, well, he didn’t know enough about that staff even though he’d visited there a few times and held an offer.
- Fast forward a couple weeks, Johnson started showing up on campus with more regularity, but it was almost exclusively for game days. That’s not always the best opportunity to get to know coaches because they’re doing their standard game day routines that involve recruiting after the game, which is generally a mad house. With five game visits in the 2017 season, Johnson became much more comfortable with the environment and atmosphere, but he was still yearning for more of a relationship with the coaching staff.
- That picked up in January. They weren’t making regular in-home visits, but Johnson set up an official visit. That’s when Auburn took the lead for good. Johnson and his mother spent a lot of time with the coaching staff, not just Rodney Garner, and the home feel started to creep in. It was Johnson’s last official visit, but he still didn’t know how scholarship space would shake out. In the end, Auburn came in and confirmed the spot. Johnson didn’t hesitate.
- Here’s a little anecdote on Johnson worth noting, as well. I spoke with a source after the Iron Bowl about defensive line prospects at that game intriguing to Auburn. The source rattled off a couple names there, but given the confidence at the time with Andres Fox — who was later accepted to Stanford — it was possible the Tigers didn’t add anymore. Right before the conversation concluded, I asked what the thought was on Caleb Johnson. The source stopped to prepare for a well-thought answer on the subject. In summation, Auburn was really high on Johnson: High character and supremely athletic for his position. Johnson was always a prospect Auburn planned to circle back around on if Fox went a different direction.
4-star wide receiver Justyn Ross — Clemson
- As much as everyone tried to turn this into an Alabama-Clemson battle, Auburn was very much in this. Ross didn’t have a decision by Tuesday night and stayed in touch with all schools throughout that night and the following morning. Auburn coaches were aware there was a fighting chance, which is why the Tigers didn’t throw out any late offers (more at the third subhead). In fact, Auburn has been given reason to believe, by Ross, that the Tigers were actually the program to finish second in this recruitment.
- A lot was made late of the two in-state schools. Alabama and Auburn were the only ones to host him on official visits in January. Ross hadn’t been to Clemson since November. But that shows what kind of impression those Tigers made on Ross since the beginning. I wrote it throughout the fall — and it’s what led me to putting in the first Crystal Ball for Ross to Clemson — but every time Ross talked about Clemson and his visits there, he gushed in a way he didn’t about the other two.
- At the end of the day, Clemson tends to open up its offense more for wide receiver. That program has a much better NFL pedigree at wide receiver recently than the other two schools. Ultimately, that helped ease Ross into his decision.
4-star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase — LSU
- Here’s another decision that wasn’t made until the 11th hour. Chase made up his mind Wednesday morning, but again, his final decision came to late to alert a prospect such as Cam Taylor about a potential offer. Chase stuck with the home-state school.
- Chase’s father suggested to SEC Country that Auburn could’ve made a stronger push if not for some factors out of its control. Auburn fought hard at the end for the last official visit weekend, but Chase’s father admitted that every time they tried to visit the Plains, something came up to prevent it from happening. The Chase family saw that, more or less, as a sign.
3-star athlete Cam Taylor — Nebraska
- Cam Taylor held out for an Auburn offer until National Signing Day, just as he always said he would. But in the end, he didn’t feel he needed to wait any longer than he already had. That’s why he went ahead and chose Nebraska during his school’s 9 a.m. CT ceremony. The timing of that ceremony became quite interesting given the ultimate decisions made by Ross and Chase.
- Taylor was made aware by defensive coordinator Kevin Steele what the deal was with his pending offer. As it was relayed to Taylor, there were two wide receivers still out there who could fill the scholarship spot potentially being left open for Taylor. Those two wide receivers were Chase and Ross who, as mentioned above, were much closer to picking Auburn than many realized. While Taylor appreciated Steele’s transparency, he felt it wasn’t worth waiting to see what other prospects decided.
- According to my sourcing, this one caused an internal discussion within the Auburn coaching staff. Several on the defensive side were pushing to offer and take Taylor early in the morning before Ross and Chase announced. The final decision went the opposite direction. Whether or not that will be viewed as a regret is irrelevant. Hindsight is 20/20.
4-star defensive lineman Malik Langham — Florida
- This decision was relayed to all three Auburn, Alabama and Florida coaching staffs on Tuesday. However, that didn’t stop each of them from continuing to recruit Langham until he signed the dotted line. From my understanding, despite Langham telling everyone it was Florida, Alabama tried to make a much bigger late push than Auburn did.
- Langham is a perfect example of relationships being everything in recruiting. Alabama offered in December and didn’t start its push until late. Auburn came in a month after that and really scrambled to get involved in this one. Ultimately, it was Florida who won out, but it had more to do with Dan Mullen than the Gators. Mullen offered Langham way back in the spring while at Mississippi State and re-offered immediately after taking over at Florida. That long-standing relationship helped the Gators win out.
Miss a previous Auburn recruiting notebook? Find every daily recap of Auburn Tigers recruiting right here.