Recruiting is a team effort at Auburn. There's no "guru," no one coach who is expected to bring in championship level players. They are all expected to do it and they all put in immense time and effort. They were all there, all in various states of anxiety. Prospects could legally sign letters-of-intent at 8 a.m. local time. The fax machine whirred into action a little after 7. The first player in the fold was running back Carl Stewart. At Maryville High School, it was after 8 a.m.
Most of those who had committed signed as scheduled. Faxes came in a steady stream. The list on the board in the hallway grew steadily longer. Assistant coach Phillip Lolley came to head coach Tommy Tuberville with a bit of unwelcome news. Russellville High School coach Perry Swindall had called. Offensive lineman Aaron Sears had decided to sign with Tennessee.
There were other questions out there, big questions. What would running back/linebacker Ernie Sims and cornerback Antonio Cromartie do down in Tallahassee? Defensive end Stanley McClover, who had committed early to Ohio State, was supposed to announce his decision at 9 a.m. In Greenville, Miss., Auburn commitment Quentin Groves, another big-time defensive end, was being pushed hard to switch to Mississippi State.
There wasn't a lot of hope on Sims. Days earlier, he had seemed close to choosing Auburn, but optimism had faded as signing day approached. A little after 9 a.m., the word came. He had, indeed, signed with Florida State. There was some consternation that he had indicated Auburn wasn't even in his final three. That wasn't the indication Auburn coaches had received, even as the process neared its end.
McClover, from Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, was expected to announce his decision at 10 a.m. He was a prized prospect, one assistant coach Eddie Gran had recruited long and hard. A couple of days earlier, Gran had been convinced McClover would choose Auburn over Ohio State. But no one from Auburn had been able to talk to him the night before or on Wednesday morning. It did not seem to be a good sign. As McClover's press conference began, calls to the Dillard High School office didn't solve the mystery. After what seemed like hours for the waiting Auburn coaches, there was a loud whoop and high fives all around. McClover had said he would sign with Auburn.
Attention turned to Groves. Auburn coaches, with painful memories of their Ole Miss days when they lost several players late to Mississippi State, were nervous. Groves was scheduled to sign at 1 p.m. Several of them sat in assistant coach Terry Price's office, waiting. Greg Knox, who recruited Groves, sat with his head in his hands, fighting the nerves. A cell phone rang. False alarm. Another ring. Another false alarm. It was nearing 1:30 p.m. when the call came. It was over. Groves had signed with Auburn. More whoops. More high fives.
A little before 2 p.m., Tuberville asked other coaches about Rudy Taylor, a linebacker/fullback from Hollywood, Fla. Auburn coaches liked Taylor, who had not been highly recruited. He had made an official visit the previous weekend. They told him they'd like to sign him if they had a scholarship. They did. The offer was made and Taylor quickly signed. Once Taylor signed, Tuberville went to the auditorium two floors below to meet with reporters and talk about his fifth Auburn signing class. "Today we took another step forward in our football program toward having another great recruiting class and having a chance to put a championship team on the field," Tuberville said. "It was a day of excitement throughout our building."
There was still the matter of Cromartie, but no one thought he would sign with Auburn. He was to sign on ESPN between 5 and 6 p.m. Auburn coaches would watch, but more out of curiosity than anything. There had been hope until the day before when defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, who had put so many hours into recruiting him, couldn't get him on the telephone. Auburn coaches thought he would sign with Florida. Instead, he signed with Florida State. Except for wide receiver Bruce Edwards, who wanted to wait until early next week to sign, Auburn's recruiting year was finished.
By Thursday, most of the Auburn coaches were gone, grateful for a few days off. They'll meet Monday morning to get into full-scale preparations for spring practice, just three weeks away. Already, they are at work on identifying prospects for next season. Several hundred high school juniors were on campus last weekend. Next February, there'll be another nerve-wracking day waiting on high school seniors to sign their names. It's a never-ending cycle in college football.