With the health of DeMarco McNeil, Spencer Johnson and Marcus White in doubt for much of the 2001 season, finding freshmen that can come in and contribute is of the utmost importance to the Auburn staff. One such player the Tigers are pursuing is 6-4, 287-pound Ray Gant from Chapel Hill, N.C., and Hargrave Military Academy, who will visit Auburn this weekend for the second of his official visits.
Just a senior in high school who went to Hargrave to play post-graduate football with the older boys, Gant is considered one of the top defensive tackle prospects in the South this season. With 4.8 speed in the 40-yard dash and good strength, he could be a player to be coveted by some lucky school in the coming years.
"I had Ray one year as a junior," Chapel Hill High coach Joe Wolfe told Inside The Auburn Tigers. "He transferred in from South Bend when he came with his sister and her husband (current assistant to basketball head coach Matt Dougherty at UNC). He transferred in from the Notre Dame area.
"Ray was a very raw player last year, very willing and capable, a hard worker. He got into lifting pretty hard when he was here…he's a good athlete, has a lot of athleticism for a big kid. He was all conference as a junior on the defensive line. We worked him at tackle and at defensive end. This season he started at strong side defensive end for Hargrave."
Totaling 95 tackles and 12 sacks in his junior season, Gant has the ability to both play the run and the pass from his defensive line position. Leaving before his senior season to play against older and better competition, Gant left Wolfe in a tough position but the coach said he liked having the chance to coach Gant even if it was for just one season.
"I hated to lose him," Wolfe said. "He was the anchor on my defensive line on one side and I didn't have to worry about it. I go from losing that to playing a sophomore at 185 pounds so it was tough on us this season."
Scheduled to choose between Auburn, Tennessee, Georgia and East Carolina, Gant is making the trip to Auburn with current teammate Derrick Bush from Hargrave. The former Miller County High standout from Colquitt, Ga., plays running back at Hargrave but could see some time on defense on the collegiate level as well.
Tiger Ticket Extra: Although he just coached Gant for one season, it's easy to tell that Wolfe has a special place in his coaching memory for the big youngster. Describing him as if he were a folk hero, Wolfe said it's easy to tell Gant when you spot him. "When you look at him he looks like a door. He's wide and he's broad and he doesn't have any fat or very little. You think, ‘Good God,' and then you see him move. He's very quick and very agile. He can play."