MIAMI — Eleven Auburn staff members moved from station to station, teaching and meeting as many players they could possibly muster during a two-hour satellite camp in the Florida heat.
The talent on display Friday in downtown Miami was immense, providing the best collection of future stars yet for the Tigers coaching staff, whose teaching options were limited to three satellite camps this summer. One observer noted at least 10 to 12 of these 125 or so players on hand would land scholarship offers from Division I schools within the next few years. One Auburn commitment was there, donning an Auburn T-shirt. He bragged about the Tigers to anyone who would listen, and even tried to push the idea of a “package deal” with a teammate to reporters.
This area of the country is crucial to Auburn’s recruiting efforts. South Florida has and always will be a hotbed for talent. Just ask the University of Miami teams of the 1980s as Howard Schnellenberger and Jimmy Johnson drew a line around the city and adjacent areas to build their programs into national champions.
Auburn has three concentrations — Alabama, Georgia and Florida — on the recruiting trail. Florida ranks third with 201 lettermen hailing from the state heading into the 2015 season. The concentration of talent in South Florida has proven important, especially in recent years. Six players heading into the upcoming season hail from the area.
Auburn, however, has found it difficult at times to completely connect with prospects in this fertile recruiting ground. Auburn’s No. 1 concern is convincing these players to visit the Auburn campus and it has proven difficult for some prospects.
“We’ve got some players from there right now that have done very well and that’s a place that is hard to get to camp, so that had something to do with the thinking (of conducting a camp in Miami),” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.
The Mecca Camp included five Miami-area high schools — Booker T. Washington, Miami-Carol City, Central, Northwestern and Southridge — with powerhouse Booker T. Washington leading the way. Several players have generated interest or will in the future as they move up the high school ranks.
“It wasn’t about recruiting, it was about instruction and really great instruction, the fundamentals, the techniques,” Booker T. Washington coach Tim “Ice” Harris said. “You can’t say it enough as a high school coach to be able to have college coaches, especially an Auburn staff from a BCS conference program, to be able to come to this community and really, really show our kids dreams and how they can come true through hard work and dedication.”
Seventy-four of the 201 Florida natives that have played at Auburn have hailed from South Florida, according to numbers compiled by SEC Country heading into last season. Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, a veteran around these parts, led Friday’s camp. He has recruited Miami at various stops since 1982, and told stories to coaches in attendance about how the Miami skyline adjacent to Gibson Park didn’t exist 30-plus years ago.
Interestingly, Harris believes satellite camps could be the cure to some facets of illegal recruiting, specifically the middle men in the shadows pimping players across the country as they travel from campus to campus for camps. Alabama coach Nick Saban believes the opposite will prove true if satellite camps remain legal.
“It’s helping them,” Harris said. “They get an opportunity now to travel with a convenient situation because it’s tough for parents to be able to say they can send a student-athlete all over the country. Being able to do things the right way, this sets up a lot of things of doing it the right way. We can stop all this illegal stuff with the middle man trying to take kids all over the place. Now coaches can be able to come locally to different schools and communities.
“That kinda elevates and takes away all the negativity that goes on with recruiting, with working with kids, especially with these satellite things. It’s not about recruiting. It’s about instruction and teaching. That’s what we got out of today and that’s the thing that is going to make satellite camps even more elite. Nobody is recruiting the kid, they’re all teaching and coaching and doing a great job instructing.”
Opinions vary in the first year of legal satellite camps for SEC programs. Meanwhile, Michigan is taking full advantage of the NCAA’s rule and is conducting 39 satellite camps this summer. Auburn limited itself to three off-campus camps because “the big thing for me is I want my coaches around my players this summer,” Malzahn said.
Auburn sent one coach to a camp in Stockbridge, Ga., and two more at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
The camp in Miami, however, was different. Auburn wanted nothing more than to flash its orange and blue colors in South Florida.
“That was great,” said Booker T. Washington defensive end Guy Thomas, who will not decide his college choice until signing day. “They showed they really want us, they want me and different players in this area. That’s wonderful.”