For his first game day in Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn put on a show.
Joey Gatewood received the red-carpet treatment for his first time as a Saturday guest when the Tigers played Arkansas two weeks ago. He got to do “the usual” with the Tiger Walk, pregame and post-game chats with players, and scored some 1-on-1 time with offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee — his primary recruiter and mentor, of sorts.
And then, of course, the Tigers annihilated the Razorbacks by 53 points in front of a prime time, sold-out crowd.
“The first thing I told coach Lashlee, ‘I’m your good luck charm.’ He was like, ‘You sure enough are,’” Gatewood told SEC Country.
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It’s just a brief conversation that gives an inside look into the relationship between Gatewood and Lashlee.
When Gatewood describes his bond with Lashlee, he has trouble doing it. It’s more of a friendship than a player-coach situation, Gatewood said. He doesn’t feel pressured or anxious, like he might around other big-time offensive coordinators or head coaches. When the two talk, it’s almost zero football.
As indescribable as it may be, it might be the biggest reason why Gatewood shocked the world — including some of his Bartram Trail (Fla.) coaches — by selecting Auburn on Dec. 5 instead of Florida State.
“I don’t know how to explain it. It’s unique. I really, really don’t know. I just bond with him like I don’t bond with other people,” Gatewood said. “He’s just a really great guy.”
The duo talks nearly on a daily basis.
That’s why, at the beginning of the 2016 season, Gatewood took pause when he began to hear the murmurs of job security concerns for the Auburn staff. Gatewood didn’t “worry, per se,” he said, but the current staff — which has silenced all of those job-callers — is the main reason why the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the 2018 class chose Auburn from the 31 offers he holds.
“It didn’t really worry me. But it would be something that, if they were to leave or something, it would affect my recruitment,” Gatewood said. “I’m not worried about that anymore.”
The lack-of-worry comment referred to a presumed firing if things went awry. With Auburn cracking the top 10 in the initial College Football Playoff poll, that no longer appears to be a relevant concern.
Not to create any kind of imminent panic for Auburn and its fans, but with the way Lashlee is calling plays, he’s — in my book — well on his way to a fine head coaching gig. That may not happen this season, though it wouldn’t surprise me if some Group of 5 teams pushed for him. But, if he keeps up this pace, Lashlee will be a hot commodity next offseason, for certain (his IQ and approach screams head coach).
That’s all hypothetical, but I do it with a purpose: That’s the only way I could see Gatewood ending up anywhere other than Auburn.
It was an early decision. But it was a calculated one. Everyone projected him to Florida State, which definitely came in second place in what was unquestionably a two-team race. I’ve heard the “let’s see if Auburn can keep him” line multiple times. But via conversations with Gatewood and his closest advisers, as long as Lashlee is a Tiger, Gatewood is too.
That’s not to say that’s the only reason he picked Auburn. He loves the town, the atmosphere and the history. But Auburn recruits always pitch the family feel, and a lot of that has to do with what Gus Malzahn and, in Gatewood’s case, Lashlee bring to the table.
“I think they’re a great fit. That’s one of the groups that we felt really good about that that’s a group that cares about developing a young man,” Bartram High coach Darrell Sutherland said. “It’s not just about football. Obviously, football is important. They’re a great football program, but we also saw in them that desire to help him be the best young man he can be.”
The Bartram Trail quarterback situation
Joey Gatewood’s statistics, as a quarterback at least, won’t impress you. He’s the fourth-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the country. Yet, something might startle you if you were to go check his high school team’s passing figures.
Bartram Trail’s leading passer has 798 passing yards. It isn’t Gatewood. Bartram Trail’s quarterback with the second-most yards has 555 yards. That also isn’t Gatewood. No, Gatewood falls in at slot No. 3, with only 337 passing yards in nine games so far this season.
So, you’re thinking: Gatewood is a great athlete who can maybe play quarterback. Auburn wants him for his speed and, if he can’t turn into a quarterback, the Tigers will put him elsewhere.
Not so fast, my friends.
Bartram Trail coaches have a predicament on their hands. The team’s No. 1 and No. 2 passers also happen to be college prospects. Jordan Smith, who sits at No. 2 on the passing list, is the only member of the 2017 class in the group. He’s technically the starter for his senior season, and he’s committed to play at Gardner-Webb next year.
The top passer on the Bartram Trail chart is Riley Smith, who only has offers from the Citadel and Charlotte for now, but Kentucky has begun to show serious interest in the 2018 pro-style prospect.
Then there’s Gatewood, who can do pretty much anything a coach asks him to do. He’s 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds, and he runs a high 4.5 40-yard dash. What do you do when you have three Division I caliber quarterbacks? Well, you start by putting your most athletic one in other spots.
As a lifelong quarterback, it’s been an adjustment period for Gatewood, but he’s a team-first guy.
“It’s something different. It’s something I haven’t really experienced,” Gatewood said. “It’s a team thing. It’s cool.”
In the meantime, Gatewood has done plenty of other things really, really well. He’s second on the team in rushing with 443 yards and 6 touchdowns. Gatewood is tied for tops on the team with 3 touchdown catches. He also took a kick return 95 yards for a score a couple weeks ago.
He’ll get more quarterback work next season when it’s a two-man job, but that will come against Riley Smith, who projects as an underrated passing talent. Bartram Trail is loaded with prospects, and of all the coaches who have come through, only one has said he thinks Gatewood is better strictly as a quarterback than Smith.
Which coach, you ask? Rhett Lashlee.
“College coaches that come here, they understand. We’ve got 3 D-I guys, so we have to rotate them. But we want to get Joey the ball as much as we can,” Batram Trail recruiting coordinator Chad Parker said. “Coach Lashlee, he was giving us a hard time because he said, ‘You know the best way to get him the ball? You snap it to him every play.'”
That’s just another sign of the rare relationship between Lashlee and Gatewood. It’s also indicative of the trust Lashlee has in Gatewood to be the quarterback of the future at Auburn.
Auburn target picks up second SEC offer
Shawn Shamburger has been mentioned around these parts as one of the many underrated prospects that Auburn has offered. In Shamburger’s case, Auburn was the only Power 5 school to offer.
That changed Tuesday.
The 3-star cornerback from Colquitt County (Ga.) picked up an offer from Tennessee, which gives Auburn potential SEC competition, not just Power 5 competition.
— UNSTOPPABLE2️⃣〽️ (@datboishawn21) November 1, 2016
Before the Volunteers called, Shamburger had offers from Auburn, Louisiana-Lafayette, South Alabama, Southern Miss, Troy and Tulane. Now, it’ll be interesting to see who else extends an offer. Shamburger has unofficially visited Florida more than once. He said Mississippi State has expressed interest, too.
As recently as early October, Shamburger — who has attended two Auburn games this year — held the Tigers in high regard. His wait had to do with: 1) How Auburn filled other DB spots and 2) His desire to show patience for other offers.
“I don’t think there’s too much out there that could put someone over Auburn,” Shamburger told SEC Country on Oct. 9. “There’s some schools that could be up there, but it’d hard to top them.”
The next projection for Auburn’s 2017 class will be released later Wednesday on SEC Country. Teaser: Shamburger made that list for the third straight month. This time, however, the added competition makes the chance of landing him move toward the “less confident” end of the spectrum.