A group of high school seniors from Alabama who performed well at one or more of a series of Auburn summer football camps will be back on the AU campus this weekend, this time for official visits.
One of Alabama's most highly regarded seniors, safety Tony Bell from Thompson High, is using his fourth official visit to check out the Tigers. A prospect is allowed to make only five official (expenses paid) recruiting trips.
Safety Tony Bell
Bell started his official visits with a pre-Christmas trip to Ole Miss, but this looks to be a three-team race with the Auburn Tigers competing against LSU and Georgia. Tennessee, where Bell may visit next week, is another possibility to get into the picture.
The recruitment has remained steady for Bell despite playing approximately half his senior season because of an ankle injury. The 6-1 1/2, 205-pounder still managed to make nearly 70 tackles with four interceptions and two touchdowns. No prospect in the state this season has received more attention from SEC schools than Bell.
"I'm trying to wait until signing day, but I'm probably going to go ahead and decide after my last visit which I hope will be to Auburn," Bell told Inside the Auburn Tigers this week. "It will just depend on if I go to Tennessee or not because I don't want to make colleges wait too long. I know they have limited scholarships and they have to get somebody and let somebody go. I don't want to mess anyone up on their scholarships."
Bell has been a frequent visitor to Auburn games and practices in the past year. He says he likes his chances for early playing time at safety for the Tigers and likes the fact that Auburn is not far from his home.
Offensive Lineman Nathan McManus
Another Birmingham area prospect visiting is offensive lineman Nathan McManus, who came on strong as a senior at Mountain Brook High. He was able to choose between visits to Auburn and Clemson this weekend and picked the in-state school because he grew up an AU fan. He is hoping for an offer this weekend from the Tigers and is also considering Georgia Tech, where he visited last week, plus Middle Tennessee State.
McManus was one of the more athletic offensive linemen at the Auburn summer camps and ran an eye-opening time of 4.79 at a University of Central Florida camp last summer in Orlando.
One of Auburn's early commitments, defensive back Darius McClure from Minor High, is making this his official visit weekend after a big senior season. The All-State performer is 5-11, 185 with sub 4.5 speed in the 40. He played safety, cornerback, running back, wide receiver and returned punts and kickoffs for his high school, which is located in Adamsville.
Defensive back Darius McClure
A pair of defensive back prospects from central Alabama is making visits to see the Tigers this weekend. Eric Robinson is from Carver High in Montgomery and Octavious Sumbry is from Central of Phenix City. Robinson, who also played running back this past season, took a major role in a surprisingly strong season for Carver. Sumbry was a standout at both safety spots for the Central Red Devils, who are traditionally one of the strongest Class 6A programs in the state.
Robinson rushed 125 times as a senior for 763 yards and eight touchdowns. He saw limited duty on defense and had one interception as a senior. Robinson, who is 6-1, 185 with 4.5 speed, had five interceptions as a junior to go with 40 tackles. He also has exceptional leaping ability with a 39-inch vertical jump.
Central's Sumbry earned a reputation as a physical tackler in high school and his two favorite games as a senior came against Opelika and Smiths Station. "Those are both rivalry games for us and I got some big hits in," he says. "That is why those two stand out to me."
Going both south and west in the state, another summer camp star is on the weekend visit list for Auburn, 6-1, 195, 4.54 tackling machine Merrill Johnson from Choctaw County High School. The All-State player made 184 stops as a senior to cap an impressive high school career at the Class 4A school.
Last weekend, the Tigers had a visitor from Louisiana and ended up getting a commitment from speedy running back Jerald Watson from Central Catholic High in Morgan City, one of the fastest high school athletes in the nation.
This weekend the visitor from Louisiana is 6-1, 183 wide receiver Burnell Wallace from O.P. Walker High in New Orleans. He made several All-State teams as he stepped into the spotlight as a senior with a big season as both a wideout and return man. He ran back five kickoffs for touchdowns and added three punt returns for scores. Walker, who has been clocked at under 4.5 in the 40, finished his senior season with 49 catches for 989 yards and 15 receiving TDs.
Another prospect who recently returned from a recruiting visit out west is linebacker Gerald McGrath, a 6-3, 210-pounder from McEachern High in Powder Springs, Ga. He spent a weekend in ankle deep powder snow when he visited the BYU campus in Provo, Utah earlier this month and notes that he enjoyed the experience. However, he didn't enjoy it enough to put the Cougars on the top of his college choice listing.
Linebacker Gerald McRath
Auburn looks to be the team to beat for the linebacker, who formerly lived in the Anniston, Ala., area . As a senior, the McEachern team captain finished his season with 90 tackles, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception.
Also from Georgia, the Tigers will be hosts to Phillip Gamble, a 6-0, 190, 4.5 athlete from Bainbridge High who plays on both sides of the ball. He rushed for more than 1,000-yards as a senior and can also play safety and has potential as a wideout.
In the northern part of the state of Georgia, Murray County High's James Knight is an athletic 6-2, 265-pound defensive lineman who will be in for a visit. He had a big senior year for the Chatsworth school with 90 tackles, including 20 for losses. He also put up big numbers as a junior. He is a two-way performer who could also be an offensive lineman at the next level. Knight is one of the strongest prospects Auburn is recruiting this year. He power cleans an impressive 365 pounds.
A pair of high school teammates from Georgia are also expected on campus. Tristan Davis, a 5-10, 197-pound defensive back from Tri-Cities High, is making the visit and his teammate, Ramarcus Brown, is also scheduled to be in Auburn this weekend.
Davis put on a strong performance in the Georgia North-South All-Star Game last month on defense. He also rushed for 837 yards as a senior, but is expected to play in the secondary as a collegian. He has visited North Carolina, Virginia and Mississippi State.
Brown, who visited and committed to Oklahoma last November and later de-committed, heads into his visit to Auburn with Georgia being the team to beat. He has also visited North Carolina and spent last weekend checking out the Florida Gators. Brown is also a two-way player who split time between the secondary and running back, but projects as a defender in college.
One of Auburn's early verbal commitments, Tucker High wide receiver James Swinton, is visiting this weekend. He originally had set a Jan. 16th visit date, but postponed his trip to Auburn to attend the funeral of his teammate and assistant coach, a father and son who were murdered in a random violence home invasion. Coach William Venable's son William, Jr. was a senior center on the Tucker High football team who planned to walk-on to the Auburn team after he graduated this year.
Swinton is one of the fastest prospects the Tigers are recruiting this season. He took the suspense out of his college choice by declaring for the Tigers last summer and has held steady to that choice.
Wide receiver James Swinton
Defensive lineman Neil Brown, a 6-1, 250-pounder from Buford High, is checking out the Tigers on an unofficial visit. He was also on campus for the 2003 season opener vs. Southern Cal. He has take officials to Michigan State, Duke, North Carolina and Tennessee and has an official trip set up next week to Alabama. He has also taken unofficial visits to Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky.
A visitor from Mississippi, fullback Michael McLaughlin, is going to be a busy, busy young man in the coming days. He will take in a pair of colleges and the two are not exactly in the same neighborhood. The fullback from Mississippi high school state champion Wayne County in Waynesboro plans to visit the University of Nebraska campus immediately after his trip to check out the Tigers.
A 6-1, 220-pounder with 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, McLaughlin led the War Eagles in rushing with 1,560 yards with 15 touchdowns. A two-year starter for a powerful Wayne County team, he rushed for 1,280 yards as a junior.
His teammate, Steve Gandy, visited Auburn two weeks ago and is a prospect the Tigers are still recruiting. McLaughlin is also considering Ole Miss and Southern Miss. Gandy is scheduled to be at Ole Miss this weekend after checking out Bama on the 16th and Auburn a week earlier. He also took a pre-Christmas recruiting trip to the desert to visit Arizona State.
Auburn has one visitor scheduled to be in from Tennessee this weekend, big defensive lineman Greg Smith from Tyner High in Chattanooga. At 6-3, 295 pounds he is an impressive physical specimen, however, he is expected to be a sign-to-place prospect who will have get to AU via the junior college route.
Lineman Greg Smith
Smith made 164 tackles as a senior with 37 tackles for losses, 11 caused fumbles and two fumble recoveries for a 12-2 Tyner High team.
The Tigers have one visitor from Florida this week as Marc Dile, a 6-4, 275-pound offensive tackle and guard, takes a visit to AU. The three-sport athlete was a third team All-State pick as a senior and is a three-year starter for Edison.
The Tigers received two commitments from prospects who visited last weekend. One was running back Jerald Watson from Morgan City, La., and the other was cornerback Corey Spells from Mays High in Atlanta.
The Tigers are also waiting on decisions from previous visitors such as offensive lineman Leon Hart from Spring Valley High in Columbia, S.C., who will announce his decision next Wednesday on the Countdown to Signing Day television show with Jamie Newberg. National signing day is Feb. 4th.
Two of the most heavily recruited quarterbacks in the South have Auburn as one of their finalists after taking visits to AU. Lefty Brent Schaeffer, who is scheduled to be at North Carolina State this weekend, has attracted plenty of attention. Schaeffer is from Deerfield Beach, Fla., High while Xavier Lee is from up the Florida east coast at Daytona Beach's Seabreeze High.
Lee says Auburn is one of his finalists along with FSU, the in-state college which has long been considered the team to beat for the talented passer and runner. Schaeffer says Auburn's stock has risen after his visit last weekend. He has also visited Tennessee, Kansas State and South Florida.
David Holbert, a fullback from Brentwood Academy who visited AU officially in early December, has the Tigers on his list of finalists along with Tennessee and Florida.
Auburn is also expected to get word sometime soon on offensive lineman Cameron Mayo from Dalton, Ga., who will visit Tennessee this weekend. Mayo is also considering Ole Miss. Tennessee is where his father, Bill Mayo, played offensive line for the Volunteers. Mayo says the Tigers are his leader.
Mayo is expected to see some familiar faces in Knoxville this weekend. Lincoln High of Tallahassee, Fla., standout performers linebacker Rodney Gallon and cornerback Joe Manning were in Auburn last weekend with Mayo and are expected to be with him again this weekend as they all check out the Volunteers.
Tommy Tuberville's Tigers are expected to sign more than 20 players on Feb. 4th and are approximately halfway to filling out their 2004 class based on current public commitments.