BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — Brentwood Academy has always been kind to Auburn.
The Nashville feeder school has delivered the Tigers a number of talented prospects over the years — King Dunlap, Kodi Bliss and John Vaughn. The private institution just outside Nashville also has produced other non-Auburn stars, including Jalen Ramsey and Scott Wells.
The Tigers wouldn’t mind adding to that legacy with a pair of 2018 offensive recruits at the school right now: Cam Johnson and Gavin Schoenwald.
“A ton of people from BA go down there, so when we go, we stay for the weekend and stay with our friends. It’s a little pipeline from BA to Auburn,” Schoenwald said.
Of the two, Johnson is the priority target. He’s the one that holds an Auburn offer, though both have made multiple trips to the school. Johnson, a 4-star receiver, is the No. 20 player at his position in the 2018 class.
He communicates with Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee “pretty regularly,” he said. Auburn launched itself near the top of Johnson’s list after an inspiring visit for the season-opener against Clemson.
“I loved it. It was the second time I’d been up there. I went up there another time on an off day just to hang out with the coaches, talk to coach Malzahn. I loved it. The atmosphere was crazy. I thought they were maybe going to get a little bit of Auburn magic,” Johnson told SEC Country. “I definitely loved it. It’s a great place. You can tell they’ve got a great thing going there.”
Auburn is high up in the discussion, but Johnson isn’t in any rush. Still early in his process, he has no intention of deciding prior to his senior season — and his primary focus is on his junior year at Brentwood, where he plays wide receiver and defensive back.
He scored two touchdowns in the team’s blowout win Friday. Neither came at wide receiver, the position everyone is recruiting him to play at the college level. But he recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown and scooped-and-scored, as well, showing his versatility all over the field.
While Johnson’s final timeline is nowhere near final, his preferences for how he wants the process to transpire are beginning to form. He’d like to cut it down to a final 5 by the upcoming summer and take his official visits to those locations.
“Right now, I’m sort of just looking,” Johnson said. “I think there will be other offers after my junior year.”
That’s all up in the air for the time being, but Johnson listed Auburn, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Louisville and LSU as the current contenders for his services. Each of those schools has offered him.
Johnson occasionally talks with Penn State. He’ll visit the Nittany Lions on Saturday. He is in close communication with Ohio State, South Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia Tech. He wants to make it up to Ohio State for a trip.
So how can all of these schools work to separate themselves from the crowded pack?
“Definitely the way they’re going to set me up as a man. Are they going to help me with the academic things?” Johnson said. “But also, I want a chance to win a conference championship or a national championship. How do they produce their players for the NFL? That’s what I’ve always dreamed of, so I want them to maybe set me up to get to the NFL one day.”
Auburn might have another advantage over the rest of the suitors. Johnson and Schoenwald have a relationship with offensive line coach Herb Hand. Speaking of pipelines, Hand’s daughter attended Brentwood Academy and served as a student trainer for the football team. She returned to the sidelines Friday for homecoming.
The Brentwood tandem had that connection with Hand prior to his arrival at Auburn.
“He’s got really close ties here. I personally know him, so I’ve talked to him a little bit,” Schoenwald said. “Having that pipeline is pretty special. Cam is really big on them. The coaching staff is great, hopefully they stick around for a while. I think they’re going to heal all their wounds.”
Schoenwald’s feelings for Auburn are tempered for the time being. He hasn’t picked up an offer yet, and he doesn’t know what position he will want to play in college. A few schools are looking at him as a quarterback. A few are looking at him as a tight end.
He’s touted as the No. 24-ranked athlete in the country.
“I look at it as, if I’ve got two options to go to a school and play tight end or quarterback, it’s better than none,” Schoenwald said. “I’m not really worried about it, but when the time comes, I’ll make a decision on it. Maybe it’ll affect the way I go.”
That position preference could be key for the Tigers because his pro-style quarterback tendencies mesh better with non-Auburn offenses. At tight end, he’s a 6-foot-5 and 225-pound presence that has Michigan’s Jay Harbaugh telling him he thinks he could be Jake Butt’s successor.
He also gets looks from Georgia, Kentucky, Ole Miss and others. Schoenwald’s offers are from in-state Tennessee — the first to pull the trigger — and Vanderbilt, which has the proximity to be a factor in the recruitment of both Schoenwald and Johnson.
Schoenwald hopes his timeline is shorter than Johnson’s expectations for his own.
“I’ve kind of made a goal to be committed by the start of my senior year, but then again, I’m just going to feel it out and see how it goes,” Schoenwald said.
Feel like you’ve heard these names before? Maybe it’s because you have. If you tuned into SportsCenter last Friday night, you noticed a high school play at No. 1 on the top-play chart. It included a smart decision by Schoenwald, a heads-up play by Johnson and flashy Hail Mary to end the half.
Brentwood Academy completes Hail Mary before half vs MBA to tie. Camron Johnson tips Jeremiah Oatsvall pass ahead to Lawrence Segree for TD pic.twitter.com/2vuobZRECD
— Chad Carson (@ChadCarson247) October 8, 2016
Here’s how the duo described the experience:
Johnson: “We had called a timeout. We ran one Hail Mary earlier in the year and didn’t get it. So it was like 65 yards or something like that. Gavin suggested we tip the ball. Our coach didn’t actually like the idea at first. Gavin tipped it up to begin with. And then it came sort of backwards, and I knew there was no way I was going to get in the end zone, so I tipped it. As soon as I tipped it, I saw Lawrence (Segree) right there in the back of the end zone. He was right there in a perfect spot.”
Schoenwald: “We came to the sideline. I think we were on the 35, so it was a 65 or 70-yard pass. He’s got a huge arm, but 65 yards for a senior in high school, that’s a long way. So I asked coach (Cody) White, ‘Do you want me to tip it?’ At first he was like, ‘No, I want you to catch the ball and score.’ When we got up there, I looked at Cam and said, ‘I’m tipping it.’ He threw it way further than I ever thought he would. And I just jumped up and got my hand on the very bottom of it. Obviously Cam made the play we talked about it and it landed right in Lawrence’s hands. It was really surreal … We got back to the bus. We were all down. It was pretty quiet. All of a sudden everyone goes, ‘We were the No. 1 play.’ We all pulled it up. As a kid, you wake up at 7 a.m. and you see all the top plays from the past night. To be the No. 1 play, that’s just unbelievable. Healed the wounds a little bit.”
Speaking of teammates…
Auburn has a commitment in the 2017 class from Carlito Gonzalez, a 3-star safety from Stephenson (Ga.) in Stone Mountain. Gonzalez is no longer the only member of his high school team to hold an Auburn offer.
As mentioned last week, 4-star 2018 offensive line target Jalil Irvin felt like an offer was imminent. Hand told Irvin to be patient. Irvin got the good news he’d been waiting for Monday.
Blessed to receive an offer from the University of Auburn ?WDE pic.twitter.com/fXQDZPbzZJ
— Jalil Irvin. (@only1_lil) October 18, 2016
When Irvin spoke with SEC Country last week, he said an Auburn offer immediately would catapult the Tigers into the discussion.
“Coach Hand said I check all his boxes. I’m just going to keep being patient. Hopefully they pull the trigger,” Irvin told SEC Country on Oct. 11. “They are one of my favorite schools. They would be in the top three.”
Irvin unofficially included Tennessee and Michigan — Irvin was originally a Wolverines commitment — as a part of that top trio.
He received a warm Auburn welcome from Gonzalez following the announcement of his offer.
Congrats Bro ??????❄️?? https://t.co/904yNM1xU0
— Carlito Gonzalez ⭐️ (@osama_binlito) October 18, 2016
Speaking of offers…
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So while a target announced his offer to Auburn, an Auburn commit picked up a potentially pivotal offer elsewhere.
Auburn linebacker commit Chandler Wooten has always described his commitment as a firm one. That hasn’t changed, but it’s not out of the question now. Wooten, from North Cobb (Ga.) picked up an offer from the in-state Bulldogs on Monday.
Blessed to receive an offer from UGA ? pic.twitter.com/cbjwrVmgpe
— Chandler Wooten (@ItsMeWootang) October 18, 2016
Here are the ways Wooten has described his official visit plan. That isn’t a tell-all indicator of a wavering commitment — and Wooten seems as firm an early enrollee as you’ll find — but his diction has changed slightly over the course of the last month and a half.
Aug. 21: “It’ll probably just be Auburn (for official visits), to be honest with you. Some other schools are still recruiting me very hard. But I haven’t decided what places I might take official visits.”
Sept. 5: “Yeah, that’s still the plan to only visit Auburn. I’ll take it right before I enroll to Auburn. Probably sometime in early to mid-December.”
Sept. 22: “I haven’t really sat down and talked to my parents about officials. We really haven’t really made any firm decisions. It’s still out there floating in the air. I don’t want to say I’m not, but I don’t want to say I am. It’s just taking it day by day, seeing what happens.”
At this point, I think it’s a solid bet to see Ohio State and Georgia receive official visits. Michigan State has been hard after Wooten throughout the process, and the Spartans could score one as well if Wooten chooses to explore.
But, to be clear, none of that should be cause for concern for Tigers fans. Wooten still speaks glowingly about Auburn and regularly references getting on campus in January to work with coach Travis Williams.