Opening statement … “First of all, I’d just really like to thank our staff for a great job this past year. I appreciate our staff through the transition. We lost three of our coaches, and they did a wonderful job. They are a very hardworking and loyal staff. Just this morning, they got me on the phone with close to 50 juniors. They are a hardworking group, and the future is bright as far as recruiting goes.
“A couple of highlights from this class that stood out to me. Our defensive line class I really believe is the best in the country. I really believe we are building a foundation for a Top 10 defense. I’m really excited about that. Coach (Rodney) Garner did a wonderful job with that group, and he deserves a lot of credit for our whole defensive class. We lost three defensive coaches about a month or so ago, and he really held that thing together and deserves a lot of credit for our defensive class.
“Also, our wide receiver class is the top in the country, and it’s guys that we went after a year ago. That’s who we hand-picked, and we got them. Coach (Dameyune) Craig and our offensive staff deserve a lot of credit. They did a wonderful job with that group. I thought it was big that we signed the No. 1 player in the state of Georgia; I think that’s the first time in school history that we did that. Georgia is very important to our success -- almost half of our players are from the state of Georgia -- and that will give us great momentum for the future with that. We also signed what we believe is the best player in the state of Alabama -- Marlon Davidson, a guy that we identified well over a year ago, almost two years ago. We believe he is an impact player. Florida is the third state that we really hang our hat on, and Nate Craig-Myers is a guy that we identified as the top guy in that state over two years ago. We feel really good about going after the guys that we targeted a long time ago, and we’re excited about that.
“I’m going to talk a little bit about each of the guys that signed with us, starting with the nine early enrollees. John Broussard from Phenix City is a corner. We recruited him a long time, and we think he has the ability to come in and give us some depth right off the bat.
“I already talked about Marlon Davidson. We think he’s an impact player. He is a big, athletic guy that can run, and we feel very good about him.
“Kyle Davis is a big receiver. We really put an emphasis in this class on big guys that can run and that can do some things with the ball after they catch it. We think he’s got a chance to be a phenomenal player.
“John Franklin has got great speed. We think he throws the ball well. He’s familiar with our offense, so we’re definitely excited about what he can do.
“Antwuan Jackson -- we feel like he is one of the best defensive linemen in the nation. Coach Garner recruited him extremely hard for well over a year, almost two years. We think he has a bright future and he’s a fine young man.
“Paul James -- we needed some pass rushers, and we really feel like he fills the need. He stayed loyal through the transition when we lost the coaches. There was about a week or so that other coaches came after him, but he hung in there with us, and we really appreciate that.
“Malik Miller is a running back and is a guy that we recruited almost three years. This guy is a true football player. He’s got very good running skills, he catches the ball well, he protects, and he does everything that we look for in a running back.
“Landon Rice is a tight end that has been committed to us well over a year, almost two years. This is a guy that has been extremely loyal to us. He is one of the top tight ends in the entire country. He didn’t take any other visits. He helped us recruit, and is just a very loyal young man that we’re excited about, and we think he can really help us next year.
“Tré Threat is a linebacker from Spanish Fort. I believe he is the only linebacker in this class. He’s got a unique ability to play inside or out, so he’s going to give Coach (Kevin) Steele and Coach (Travis) Williams some flexibility, and he’s a talented young man.
“Brodarious Hamm is an offensive lineman. I believe we only signed two offensive linemen. He has the ability to play inside or tackle. He is a big, athletic guy, and a very smart guy. We’re excited about coaching big Brodarious.
“Woody Barrett is our quarterback. I started recruiting Woody right when I got the head coaching job here. Coach (Rhett) Lashlee did a great job with him. We hand-picked him. He is a true dual-threat quarterback. He can run it, throw it, has got that leadership ability, and we really appreciate his loyalty, too. A lot of big schools came after him, and he hung in there. He was very loyal to us and helped keep this class, especially offensively, together.
“Eli Stove is a guy that we’ve been recruiting for almost two years. He’s got a wonderful family, and we really feel like he’s got a very unique skill set. We think he has the chance to be an impact player. He can really do some things with the ball once he gets the ball in his hands. We think he is going to do a great job for us and have a chance to help us next year.
“Nick Coe is on the defensive line. He was a state champion wrestler a couple years and he has a chance this year. He is a very big, athletic guy. We’re very excited about him.
“Marquis McClain is another big receiver, a guy that is 6-foot-2, a little over 200 pounds. He has a 40-inch vertical and runs a 4.5 40. He came to camp and really stood out to us. We really feel good about him.
“Prince Sammons is a guy that Coach Herb Hand was recruiting before at Penn State. He had made a visit here before as a defensive lineman, and we really went hard the last month or so at offensive tackle. He’s a guy that a lot of people wanted as a defensive end, so that tells you about his physicality. We’re very excited about him playing offensive tackle for us. We think the sky is the limit for this young man, and we’re very excited about him.
“Marlon Character -- we really appreciate Marlon’s loyalty to us. He stayed committed to us through the transition of us losing a defensive coordinator and our secondary coach. Those guys kept recruiting him, and he hung in there with us. He stayed with us, he waited until we hired a defensive coordinator and a secondary coach, and I really appreciate his loyalty to us. He’s going to be a fantastic player. He’s got a very good skill set.
“Tashawn Manning is a young man that was diagnosed with cancer close to three months ago. He is a guy that we are very excited about in the future. We feel like it will be a Shon Coleman story all over again. He’s a tough young man. After he signed his papers, we said what are you going to do to celebrate, and he went to get chemo. So please keep your thoughts and prayers with him and his family. He’s got a great attitude, and we believe that he will be with us in a short period of time.
“Daniel Thomas is a defensive back from Montgomery. He’s a guy that’s been on our radar a really long time. We know a lot about him. He used to come over to games. We brought him on an official visit this past weekend, and we just fell in love with him and his family. He is a football player, so we are really excited to have Daniel in the secondary.
“Nate Craig-Myers is a guy we identified two years ago. We really feel like he is one of the best overall players in the entire country. He’s a big guy that can go get the football. He’s tough to tackle and has that competitive edge. He’s got a great family and is a wonderful person. Coach Craig did a really good job of recruiting him. We’re really excited about him. He’s a got a chance to be an impact player for us.
“Jayvaughn Myers is a defensive back and is a guy that is long and very athletic. Coach (Wesley) McGriff is very excited about this guy. He’ll have a chance to come in and compete for playing time.
“Lastly, Derrick Brown, the number one player in the state of Georgia -- we’ve been recruiting him for two years, probably a little over two years. Coach Garner did a wonderful job with him. He’s got a wonderful family. He is a true impact player. We believe he is one of the best players in the entire country. We had a chance to watch him play in person, and it was one of the most impressive performances that I’ve had a chance to watch at any position. We’re very excited about him.
“Overall, this is a very good class. The thing that really stands out to me is that it is a very talented class, but these are high character young men with great families. That’s what we targeted. You heard me say a lot of times we recruited this guy for two or three years, developing those relationships over a long period of time, and I think there is something really special that goes with that. I’m very excited. I know that every year I’ve been here I’ve gotten before you and told you how excited I was, which I was, but this class is a little bit different. This class is a special class, and it’s probably from the standpoint that there are true impact players at impact positions. Defensive line sets the tone for the defense and receivers who can make impact plays. I’m really excited and really proud of our staff. This class I think people will look back on in the years to come.”
Will John Franklin III getting a chance to earn the quarterback job…“Oh yes, he’s going to get a chance to win the job. Our quarterback position is wide open. He came in here wanting a chance to win the job. Woody Barrett will have a chance, too. We’re going to see who the best guy is, and we’ll go from there.”
On signing big-sized receivers…“We lost Ricardo (Louis), we lost Melvin Ray, and those are big guys. We just felt like we needed to get some big guys in this class, so that was just something that Coach Lashlee, Coach Craig and I just really targeted. The great thing is we started targeting them a year and a half to two years ago, and that’s exactly who we went after. We got each one of the guys we went after, and so I think that really says a lot.”
On keeping recruits through coaching changes…“I think it says a lot because that’s hard to do. When you lose a defensive coordinator and you lose a secondary coach -- we lost three defensive coaches -- but it says a lot about the rest of our staff. With Coach Garner holding that defensive class together until we were able to get Coach Steele, Coach McGriff, and Coach (Travis) Williams. Coach Williams did a great job; he hit the ground running. He’s going to be one of those bright up-and-coming guys. I’m very excited about Coach McGriff. He has a great personality, he’s a great person and he’s a ball coach.”
On signing nine early enrollees…“Every player is different, each young man is different, but to early enroll, it definitely helps you. That’s nine that we have, the most that we’ve ever had. I think you see a trend around college football. More and more want to come in and go through spring and compete, have a chance to play early, so we’re excited about the nine guys. They’re off to a very good start. They’ve worked out with Coach (Ryan) Russell, and they’re looking forward to spring practice.”
Does that help focus on other recruits in the class…“Any time you’ve got nine guys out of the way to focus on the rest, I think it definitely helps. It takes a little bit of stress off.”
How many signees have immediate impact potential…“The way we’re recruiting, we hope all of them have a chance. We’re going to give all of these guys the opportunity to help. They’re very talented, and we’re going to play the best out there. Coach Garner likes to play a lot of defensive linemen, which is great because it keeps those guys fresh. Receiver-wise, we have very few guys on scholarship -- we lost four seniors -- so these guys coming in will have a chance to get in the mix right off the bat.”
On Daniel Thomas…“He’s a guy that we’ve known about for a long time, even the old defensive staff when they were here, he was really on our radar. He’s a true football player, and he came on an official visit this weekend, and we were very honest and upfront with him. We just decided to make the call, and we made the call really, really early this morning. He was ready to go. He’s got a wonderful family. I think they’re really excited, and he’s a football player. I’m excited to have him on our team.”
On the size of the secondary signees …“Coach McGriff’s really looking for guys who have the length, the long arms and that can run. He feels very good about this secondary that he has coming in. He thinks these guys will at least be in the mix to have the chance to play.”
On John Franklin III’s fit in with the team…“First of all, I think he’s fit in very well. He’s a very likable young man. Something about our team is they’re very welcoming. The guys that come in, they just embrace them, so I think he’s very comfortable and fitting in very well. As far as our quarterbacks are concerned, I’m really looking forward to spring to let those guys compete. There are a lot of good options, and competition brings out the best in everybody, so I think all those guys are ready to roll their sleeves up and get ready to work.”
Is it hard to get reps for four quarterbacks…“In the spring, it’s good. In the spring, it’s exactly what you want. Once you get in the fall, if you have four guys, that’s not so good. We did that when Nick Marshall won the job in 2013, and I think we went about two weeks non-live, and when we felt like we’d put the ball down and went live, it kind of cleared things up. In the spring, I think that’s good. We’ll let these guys play, and I think it’ll give us some good information before we get to fall camp.”
When will he name the starting quarterback…“Every year’s different, and we’re going to see how spring goes. We named Cam Newton the starter two weeks after the spring.”
On Landon Rice…“He’s got a chance to be a big-time player, we think. He’s a very physical guy, he can catch the football, and he’s got that tough mentality. Jalen Harris is a guy, too, that we think is going to have a chance to be a heck of a player. Those two guys I’m really excited to watch in the spring.”
On Herb Hand’s role…“Herb, first of all, is a very good recruiter and has a great reputation, and he’s a very good teacher, too. He was very instrumental in Prince (Sammons). He had a relationship already and we identified him about a month ago and recruited him hard. Herb did a great job with him, and I know he’s excited to coach him. And Brodarious (Hamm), he did a great job developing a relationship with him, too. I know he’s looking forward to playing for him, too.”
On impact of Cam Newton’s stardom in recruiting…“It definitely helps. Every quarterback wants to be Cam Newton and he’s doing pretty good right now, so I’d say that helps.”
On a lengthy recruiting process…“I think that’s very important. Auburn’s a special place. It is truly about family and when we’re able to recruit young men and their families for an extended period of time, we’ve got a very good chance. So you see this group and you hear me say, ‘two years’, ‘three years’, I think that’s very important.”
On amount of time the staff has spent on junior recruits…“We’ve been thinking about the juniors for a long period of time. Every year it seems like it gets earlier and earlier. Our staff has done a good job. Today was a really good day. They got me on the phone with close to 50 guys coming up and I think that’s a great thing. I’m excited to recruit those guys and I know our coaches are too.”
On signees at linebacker position…“We’ve got some young linebackers we feel good about already. Tré Threat we think will fit in, too. We feel good about the young guys we redshirted or played on special teams.”
Is there one signee who could be underrated…“Eli Stove, off the top of my head. There’s a lot of guys. Nick Coe is a guy I think is going to be a phenomenal player, probably a little under the radar. Eli Stove is a top 100 recruit, but he gets a little bit overlooked with the other guys. But he’s a phenomenal player. We think he’s going to have a chance to make an impact and we think he’ll make an impact early.”
On filling support staff vacancies…“What I was wanting to do is get through this recruiting class and I really focused on that. Probably early next week, I’ll have some more updates. I’d like to try and do that as soon as we get back.”
On Prince Micheal Sammons converting to offensive line…“We just said, ‘Hey Prince, we need an offensive tackle and we feel like your skill set is exactly what we’re looking for. Would you be interested in doing that?’ He said, ‘I’d be interested in doing anything, I just want to help the team’. So that’s what we recruited him for. I know other teams were recruiting him to play defensive end, and he’s a very good defensive end, too, but he has that physical mentality. He’s very athletic, and he’s going to be bigger, so we’re very excited about playing him at tackle. We think the sky’s the limit for him.”
On Dameyune Craig…“He’s got that ‘GQ’ about him. He did a good job. I’m very proud of him and the job he did with these receivers. He worked extremely hard to develop those relationships over a long period of time. I’ll say this again. The guys we got are the guys we wanted two years ago. That’s rare -- usually you identify your top guys and then they go and you may get one of them, and you have to go to the next guy, but those are the guys we wanted. And that’s the exciting thing for me. He did a great job, and our whole offensive staff did a great job. We team recruit. We family recruit. I’m very proud of our staff. They worked extremely hard.”
On new coaches finding their roles…“We really focused on recruiting and we usually do at this time. But now we can transition into our players and really get back to being around our players and get ready for spring practice. Spring practice has moved up a little bit -- I think it’s March 1 -- so I’m excited to get on the field with those guys early, so we’ll flip the switch. We’ll really start focusing on spring, which is very exciting to me.”
Why spring practice is earlier…“The way the schedule fell is one reason, but I like a little more time for spring ball as far as recruiting goes.”
Will all the signees qualifying academically...“We feel pretty strong about that. I think all our guys will qualify.”
On going to the Super Bowl…“I’m going to the Super Bowl. I leave in the morning.” On going to Disney World after the Super Bowl…“I’m not going to Disney World afterward.”