KENNESAW, Ga. — North Cobb High School coach Shane Queen said it best when he took the podium to commemorate Auburn commit Chandler Wooten at his official Under Armour All-America game jersey ceremony.
“Not only is he an elite player,” Queen said, “but he’s also an elite person.”
Sure, it’s cliche — the coach praising his star player’s non-football intangibles — but it’s the fact of the matter with Wooten. The 3-star linebacker brings a 5-star persona everywhere he goes.
After receiving his No. 17 game jersey, he graciously submitted to a 30-minute photo session. His parents, the whole North Cobb football team, Under Armour representatives, American Family Insurance representatives, his head coach, selfies with underclassmen teammates who wanted to document the first major high school All-America game participant in school history.
After all that, Wooten still, eagerly, was willing to talk about what the whole experience meant. And boy, it means a lot to him.
“It’s definitely a lot of hard work that goes into it over the years. It’s not something that happens overnight,” Wooten said. “Just the fact I’ve been able to put in so much work over such a long period of time, see my dreams come true, it’s definitely fulfilling.”
Wooten has been watching this specific all-star game on ESPN for years. When the Under Armour reps reached out to him this summer, it caught the 6-foot-3, 227-pound linebacker by surprise.
Not by so much surprise that he didn’t know how to react, however.
“I was shocked. I was like, ‘Wow, really?'” Wooten told SEC Country. “I decided to play in the game as soon as they offered it to me. It’s definitely not something you want to pass up. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Wooten, who committed to Auburn on May 13, will travel to the ESPN Wide World of Sports for the New Year’s Day festivities.
As someone who had tuned in for practices and games in the past, Wooten called himself “blessed and humbled” to enjoy the experience first-hand. It’s about soaking in all the coaching possible, relaxing in the all-star atmosphere and, of course, getting a crash course on Division I football players all over the field.
“When you play teams here, at your own high school, you play a couple studs here and there. Being in an All-American game, everyone is just as good as you, if not better,” Wooten said. “So I definitely have to bring my A-game.”
He usually does.
The journey to All-American
Chandler wasn’t the only Wooten to be recognized during the Thursday ceremony. His father, Kelvin, received the Dream Champion Award, given to person who made the biggest influence in the All-American player’s career.
For Chandler, making his father a part of this was important.
“It means everything to me. He told me from a young age I could be special in life, not just on the football field, really just everything I do,” Chandler said. “He’s taught me from a young age to pursue my dreams, to keep God first. He taught me everything that I know. So it made me him.”
Kelvin served as Chandler’s first football coach when the Auburn pledge picked up the sport at 9 years old. Kelvin said Chandler “took to the game rather quickly,” which made him recognize his son’s promising potential on the gridiron.
By his eighth grade year, it was clear Chandler had next-level ability when Queen started asking about the possibility of playing him as a freshman. After that conversation — a funny, little anecdote — Kelvin knew the realistic chance of his son making it to the college level.
“As an eighth grader, when they discussed putting him on the varsity team. I was like, ‘Well coach, what do we need to do to make sure he’s up to speed to compete?'” Kelvin said. “That’s when coach felt like he was going to be a special player. He said, ‘One day he’s going to save you guys a lot of money.’ That’s come to fruition.”
But Under Armour All-American? That even surprised pops.
“I knew he was going to be good. But I didn’t know he was going to be Under Armour-type good,” Kelvin said. “I went in understanding that every year he got better. His game always always developed. Something every year improved. Now he’s just put it all together.”
First things first…
Wooten can’t wait to get to the Plains, so much that he intends on enrolling early in January. He wants to get a head start on classes, bulk up in the weight room, get more familiar with the team and put himself into position to contribute in the fall.
He will impatiently count the days until his Under Armour All-America experience.
But all of that takes a back seat to the North Cobb season, which has gotten off to a 3-1 start. Wooten, the unquestioned team leader, has played an integral role in that success. And there’s more where that came from.
“We definitely want to win a state championship. That’s the goal. We’re not shying away from it at all. We set out that goal last January,” Wooten said. “We came together as a team after last football season. We lost a lot of close games last year. We lost a total of five games by a total 12 points. All offseason, we preached, ‘Finish, finish, finish.’ We’ve got to finish.”
As the first major high school All-America game participant, you can imagine how the Warrior community feels about his recognition and high level of play.
— Benjamin Wolk (@benjaminwolk) September 22, 2016
Ready to be an Auburn Tiger
To eliminate the elephant in the room — the question every fan has asked me since Auburn dropped the opener to Clemson — yes, Wooten is well aware of the rumors circulating around Auburn nation after the 1-2 start.
He’s not blind to it, nor is any recruit. But he embraces the adversity. It’s what draws high-caliber prospects to the zaniness of SEC football.
“I’ve definitely looked at it. We’re not going to shy away from it. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s time to panic,” Wooten said. “It’s three games into the season, but at the same time, we do need to start winning. We do need to start moving the ball. So it’s time to get in that win column. Saturday will be a good start to that.”
Wooten said since the summer he plans on taking one official visit — to Auburn in December just prior to his early enrollment. That hasn’t changed, but recruits will use preventative measures when they need to. That’s not to say Wooten will, or that he’ll need to.
With the early-season chatter, it simply piques the interest of a recruit so attached to members of the Auburn coaching staff. In Wooten’s case, it’s Auburn linebackers coach Travis Williams in particular. When Williams joined the Auburn staff this offseason, Wooten was one of the first prospects he reached out to.
That bond stuck instantaneously.
“Ever since then, we’ve had a great relationship,” Wooten said. “It’s just his energy, how personable he is. He’s not the type of the coach who’s going to sugarcoat you and let you know you’ll come in and start right away. You’ve got to come in and earn it. I know somebody is going to push me. He sees a greatness in me, so he’s going to push me to do what I need to do.”
Wooten shares another great relationship with fellow linebacker commit Tadarian Moultry.
The tandem reflects Williams’ personality, something Wooten said he’s noticed as a major difference between this year’s Auburn football team and last year’s squad.
“Compared to last year — I went to a couple games last year — I can tell you right now, from last year to this year, it’s a big jump really just in the effort,” Wooten said. “They all play just like their coaches act. That’s very exciting. They play with a lot more passion and a lot more fire than they did last year.”
Before he gets to Auburn, Wooten has one major Tigers wish. It’s been mentioned before how badly the Auburn commits want Oxford (Ala.) linebacker KJ Britt to join the 2017 recruiting class. Britt attended the Clemson and Texas A&M games. He’ll be at the LSU game, as well.
As a fellow linebacker, Wooten wants Britt as much as anyone. He even called his shot.
“Oh, KJ Britt. He’s coming. He’s coming. Just know that. I’m calling it right now. That’s our run stopper man. He’ll come stop that run. He’s a great guy. He’s funny. I just like being around him. He’s the life of the party all the time,” Wooten said. “That’s my guy.”
Here is Wooten’s video created by the American Family Insurance Selection Tour representatives: