Looking For A Big Finish In Football Recruiting

Tommy Tuberville and the Tigers have a lot of blue chippers committed and could substantially add to that group in the next few days.

Auburn, Ala.--A year ago, Tommy Tuberville and his football staff put together a strong close to the 2002 recruiting class. The head coach and his assistants are again positioned for a potential big finish.

Auburn is involved with more blue chip prospects than it has room to take in its 2003 signee class, but there are no guarantees that everything will fall into place for the Tigers as smoothly as it did down the stretch last February where the Tigers picked up four heavily recruited uncommitted prospects on signing day--linemen Marcus McNeill, Jonathan Palmer and Troy Reddick along with wide receiver Devin Aromashodu. With the Tigers desperately needing offensive linemen in that class to fill a shortage on the roster, the excitement level was probably too high for Tuberville and offensive line coach Hugh Nall to enjoy.

The Tigers also came up big with key commitments in the final days before signing day from players like defensive tackle T.J. Jackson from Opelika and Ben Obomanu from Selma, who became key players for the Tigers last fall as true freshmen. Interestingly, the Tigers are in on still uncommitted prospects from those same schools.

Ernie Sims

Although much of the focus has been on the still uncommitted No. 1 rated high school prospect in the nation in Ernie Sims, a running back/linebacker from North Florida Christian, there are plenty of other blue chippers in the pot for Tuberville and his staff to try to win in the high stakes poker game of SEC football recruiting.

Auburn is in the hunt for heavily recruited prospects such as Aaron Sears, a 6-3, 300 from Russellville High, the top offensive line prospect in the state of Alabama. Sears, who was in Auburn on Wednesday and Thursday for the third of his four official visits, will spend the weekend with the Miami Hurricanes. He is not expected to announce his college choice prior to signing day on Wednesday. Tennessee and Ohio State are the two other colleges in the picture with the Vols looking to be the main competition for the Tigers.

Also in-state, the Tigers are in the mix with three-sport standout Jai Miller, a quarterback and defensive back for Selma High School this past season. He is expected to be a wide receiver in college if he plays on offense. If he ends up as a defender, look for him to be in the secondary. Miller, who wants to play basketball in college, too, is also looking at Stanford and Alabama.

Jai Miller

Another in-state prospect the Tigers are recruiting is defensive back Eric Brock from Benjamin Russell High in Alexander City. At 6-0, 180 pounds with sub 4.5 speed in the 40, he has the option of playing either football or basketball in college. Former Auburn 1960s basketball star Larry Chapman, head coach at AUM, has offered Brock a scholarship as a point guard. However, the BRHS standout is likely to take the gridiron route to college. He played both wide receiver and defensive back as a junior on a state championship team and again last fall as a senior.

Brock visited Louisville last weekend and previously took an official visit to Arkansas. Other SEC schools that have been recruiting him include South Carolina, Alabama and LSU. He has turned down other visits and his trip to Auburn this weekend is expected to be his last. "I like the way they are recruiting me as a person and not just a football player," Brock says about the Tigers. "Auburn is close to home and it is very convenient for my family to see me play and if I need to go home."

Marquies Gunn, a 6-3, 205, 4.6 defensive end from Benjamin Russell High, has already visited the Tigers. Alabama has been trying to line up a visit. Last weekend, he and Brock flew to Louisville to check out the Cardinals, who are led by former Auburn assistant coach Bobby Petrino. On the way home, the duo stopped in Birmingham for a visit to UAB.

Montavian Collier

Another in-state senior being recruited by Auburn was scheduled to take his last visit this weekend, too. And, like Brock and Miller, he is a good basketball player. Montavian Collier from Opelika High School is averaging 14 points per game in basketball this year. After official visits to Auburn and FSU the past two weeks, a player who entered his senior season as a bit of an unknown ended his senior season as a player a variety of colleges were showing interest in. He did have a recruiting trip set to see the Georgia Bulldogs this weekend, but cancelled that trip on Friday.

Auburn looks to have a good chance to sign the 6-2, 215-pounder, who has been clocked at under 4.5 in the 40 and put together a big season as senior after spending two years away from the game when he concentrated on basketball. The two seasons away from the gridiron didn't have much, if any impact, on his ability to play the game. He quickly earned a reputation as one of the better high school seniors in the state as well as a rep as being a big hitter. "That is something I enjoy doing," he says of being physical on the football field, noting that by the end of spring practice last year for Coach Spence McCracken's team that he had made enough big hits to show he would be a main man for the Bulldogs in 2002.

Tez Doolittle

Collier is expected to announce his college choice on Monday afternoon at Opelika High along with his teammate, fullback/defensive lineman Tez Doolittle, who has narrowed his choices to Auburn and Georgia, notes McCracken.

At Smiths, just a few miles east of Opelika and an even shorter drive to Phenix City where quarterback Kelcy McKissic-Luke has pledged to sign with Auburn, is another in-state prospect the Tigers are recruiting. Linebacker Mitchell Thomas from Smiths Station High says that he is having a difficult time making a pick with four teams in the picture--Auburn, Alabama, Notre Dame and Georgia. Thomas is one of two in-state linebackers being recruited by Auburn. The other is Terrance Jones from Tuscaloosa County High, who is also looking at Alabama.

Antonio Cromartie

The Tigers are also in the hunt for some highly regarded out-of-state talent in addition to Parade All-American Ernie Sims in Tallahassee, who is the son of former star athletes at Florida State. Parade All-American cornerback Antonio Cromartie of Lincoln High has the Tigers on the list of finalists that includes hometown FSU and the Florida Gators. He is also an outstanding wide receiver and has offers from colleges around the country on both sides of the ball. He has also visited Michigan and Alabama, but Auburn's main competition is expected to come from the Gators and Seminoles.

The same three teams that are in the mix for Cromartie look to be the leaders for defensive tackle Andre Fluellen, a 6-3, 275-pounder Cartersville, Ga., High, the school that sent Ronnie Brown to Auburn. Fluellen's opinion of the Tigers in this recruiting battle has risen after an official visit to Auburn over the weekend followed by an in-home midweek visit from Tuberville. Florida head coach Ron Zook also made a trip to Cartersville this week to recruit Fluellen, who is scheduled to take his fifth and final visit to FSU this weekend.

Fluellen made earlier trips to Vanderbilt and Maryland, but the Commodores and Terps don't look to be in the final mix. Alabama sent a substantial portion of its new coaching staff to Cartersville to try to get a visit from the defensive tackle, but had no luck. Fluellen has many other offers, but says he should be ready to make a decision not long after returning from Tallahassee.

Unlike many heavily recruited prospects, Fluellen says that he is not letting the pressure bother him. "Actually, I am enjoying all of the attention," he says.

The Tigers are looking to add a high school senior defensive end in this class. A pair of pre-Christmas official visitors are still possibilities--Quenton Groves from Greenville, Miss., and Stanley McClover from Dillard High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Although they are separated widely by geography, the common theme is that they both are exceptionally fast with speed in the 4.5 range and they are both being heavily recruited by Auburn. McClover gave a verbal commitment to Ohio State on an official visit there in January, but he has since said that the Tigers are still in the picture. McClover is expected to wait until Dillard's traditional signing day ceremony to announce his selection. Groves visited Georgia last weekend and came away saying the Bulldogs were the leaders. However, he has had other leaders in the recruiting process and schools such as Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Auburn are not giving up yet.

On the subject on not giving up, persistence could pay off for the Tigers in the recruitment of Kevin Williams, a 6-7, 272-pounder from Sebastian River, Fla. Although many colleges backed off early because they assumed he was headed to Miami, Auburn got a visit this past weekend from the three-sport standout and he says he was impressed with what he saw. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville flew to Florida on Thursday night to meet with Williams and his family. He could play on either side of the ball in college with quick feet, excellent size and the kind of athletic ability that allowed him to average a double-double in basketball as a junior and become one of the better shot put men in his area.

With defensive backs a priority, the Tigers have received visits from still uncommitted prospects such as Andre Davis from Pearl-Cohn High in Nashville, Tenn., and Mike Jenkins of Southeast High in Bradenton, Fla. Jenkins is a much higher profile prospect who visited Clemson last weekend and took January trips to Auburn and Nebraska. Davis, a quarterback in high school, said he is very interested in the Tigers if they offer.

Rudy Taylor

Another lower profile prospect the Tigers are looking at is 6-0, 235, 4.8 Rudy Taylor, who played on Class 2A powerhouse Chaminade Madonna's team in Hollywood, Fla. He played linebacker and was second-team All-Broward pick at the position and played in the Dade-Broward all-star game in January. He also played on the offensive line and is known as a fierce blocker. Auburn is looking at him as a player who could be a blocking fullback in college. South Florida and MAC teams such as Western Michigan and Ball State are among the schools who have been checking out Taylor, who is scheduled to visit the Auburn campus this weekend. The most impressive scholarship offer he has so far is from Michigan State of the Big 10, says his coach, Mark Guandolo who fielded a powerhouse team that was the state runner-up.

Another Florida prospect the Tigers brought in for a visit in January, quarterback Stephen Reaves from Plant High in Tampa, says he should be ready to make a decision on his favorite soon after returning from an official visit scheduled this weekend at Southern Cal. Michigan State and Louisville are among the teams he has been considering.

Decision-time is approaching for another Florida prep standout, Horatio "H.B." Blades, 6-1, 225, 4.55 from Plantation, Fla., High who earlier committed to Pitt but has reconsidered.

Jamesley Jean

An additional Florida prospect who has the Tigers high on his list is tight end Jamesley Jean, 6-5, 225, 4.65, from Jefferson High in Tampa. Jean says he enjoyed his fifth and final visit last weekend that was spent in Auburn. Ohio State, North Carolina State and LSU are the teams he mentions as the ones he is seriously considering in addition to Auburn. The Florida Gators and a variety of other colleges have tried to line up visits with Jean, too.

As popular as the tight end from Tampa has been, it is unlikely anybody in the state of Florida has received more attention from college coaches than Sims. He has already visited Auburn, Florida, Georgia and Miami. He will wrap up the recruiting visits with a trip to see the hometown FSU Seminoles this weekend and is expected to wait until signing day before announcing his college pick. Coaches from Auburn and Georgia made in-home visits with Sims on Friday before he took his visit to FSU>

The total package--with speed, power, size and agility--Sims says that he hasn't decided whether or not he wants to play on offense or defense in college. With a strong academic background, he should be ready to compete for playing time early in his collegiate career, no matter which school he selects.

Jarrod Britt

Tuberville and his staff got off to a strong start in recruiting before Christmas and have added players since then. Two of the top offensive line prospects in the South, Jarrod Britt of McEachern High in Powder Springs, Ga., and King Dunlap of Brentwood, Tenn., Academy, ended the suspense before Christmas.

The first Auburn verbal commitment came last summer from defensive lineman Josh Thompson of Statesboro, Ga., who is one of the physically strongest high school seniors in the country this year. Auburn has picked up juco players Doug Langenfeld from Reedley, Calif., Junior College and Tony McClain from Coffeyville, Kan., Community College to help fill the major hole at the end position. Depth problems at end plagued the Tigers much of the season. McClain, who is already enrolled at AU along with juco teammate Brandon Jacobs, who will be participating in spring training drills at AU starting in March.

Josh Thompson

In addition to Kelcy McKissic-Luke, who is not going to follow two older brothers to Alabama, another very athletic quarterback is Auburn-bound--Courtney Denson from Central High in Miami. Denson was a summer standout at an Auburn football camp who had previously picked Virginia Tech before having a change of heart. He has the ability to play a variety of positions.

Talented Patrick Lee from Christopher Columbus High in Miami, Fla., is a key pickup for the Tigers, who must replace four graduating seniors in the secondary. Speedy Bruce Edwards from Columbus, Miss., High says he will sign with Auburn on Wednesday as will one of the Tennessee Mr. Football Award winners, tailback Carl Stewart from three-time state champion Maryville.

Auburn has commitments from the kicker/punter combo of John Vaughn and Kody Bliss, teammates at Brentwood, Tenn., Academy. Damon Duval, a senior last season, handled both field goals and punting duties.

Cole Bennett

The Tigers also have picked up much-needed tight end commitments out of Cole Bennett from Dalton, Ga., and Ken Williams from American High in Hialeah, Fla. They will help fill a gap left by Robert Johnson going pro, Lorenzo Diamond graduating and 2002 signee Justin Bruce having to give up football due to a neck/back problem that prevents him from participating in contact sports.

Players can officially begin signing scholarship papers at 8 a.m. local time on Wednesday. Unless there is a rash of commitments prior to then, there should be plenty of excitement for Auburn football fans as they wait to find out exactly who will fill out the 2003 class of future Tigers.


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