It’s safe to say that Travis Williams’s first season as a collegiate linebacker coach was a success. Williams, aka T-WILL, was a fan favorite when he played at Auburn as an undersized LB in the mid 2000s. After watching the LB spot go from a glaring weakness to a solid strength on the field in 2016 and seeing the outstanding group of young linebackers he signed in the 2017 class, I think it’s safe to say he’s become a fan favorite now as a coach roaming the Auburn sideline.
But college football is a “what have you done for me lately” business, so how do things stand from a recruiting perspective in the 2018 class? Right now Auburn has 0 commits at the LB position but are considered big time players for quite a few top prospects. Here’s a look at a few names the Tigers have a shot at landing:
- 4* JJ Peterson
- 4* Quay Walker
- 4* Zakoby McClain
- 4* Nathaniel Watson
- 4* Channing Tindall
- 4* Amari Gainer
- 3* Michael Harris
- 3* Matthew Flint
The Tigers are looking to land at least two from that list, possibly three in this year’s class. A few months ago, I felt very confident that those two would be Quay Walker and Nathaniel Watson. Walker is former teammates with 4* signee Markaviest Bryant and his coach was almost hired as an off the field analyst by Auburn until the recent recruiting rules change. Watson is an AU legacy and has consistently listed AU as his leader.
However, I am not so sure about that now. Michael Harris recently told Keith Niebuhr in an interview that Williams mentioned he wants Harris and Zakoby McClain in this year’s class. That hints that the LB board has been rearranged. That appears to be backed up some by Quay Walker who recently listed Alabama as his leader and mentioned Auburn wasn’t recruiting him as hard in recent months. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers decided to push harder again for Walker as he is a very talented kid. However, it might be Garner who steps in instead of Williams as Walker could be outgrowing the LB position in Auburn’s defense. He honestly reminds me some of Jeff Holland in high school and I wouldn’t be surprised if he took the same path in college.
So what are Auburn’s chances with Harris and McClain then? Well, they seem to be very good with Zakoby McClain, who continues to list the Tigers as his top school. Both South Carolina and LSU are teams to watch in this race, but for now Auburn is in good position. As for Harris, that could get interesting. He has not hid the fact that Ohio State is his dream school going as far as saying that he planned on committing a few months ago when he was expected to visit the Buckeyes. However, that visit never materialized and now things don’t seem as certain. In the past two weeks, two Crystal Ball picks have come in for Auburn on Harris. If you are unfamiliar with the Crystal Ball feature on 247, it is where “experts” can put in picks for where they expect certain prospects to land. Now this feature is far from perfect but the best way to use it is to see who are making those picks. Both recent picks have come from Ohio State recruiting insiders, which tells me that something is up. The working theory is the Buckeyes might not have room for Harris. They are battling Florida State for 5* Teradja Mitchell and are the overwhelming favorites to land 4* Dallas Gant. I am unsure of how many linebackers they plan on taking but given the recent Crystal Ball movement, it might not be enough to also take Harris.
If that ends up the case, things could get interesting. Auburn and Georgia appear to be the teams battling it out for the #2 spot. The difference in that race could end up being Travis Williams, who Harris has said is the coach he has the best relationship with and that’s including the Ohio State staff. Don’t let that 3* rating fool you, this kid can play. It might seem odd wanting a player that another school could pass on but considering that the other player might be the best MLB in the country, it shouldn’t be too big of a red flag. I personally think Harris is the best LB in the southeast and would be a huge coup for the Tigers if the Buckeyes pass. That’s far from certain especially since Teradja Mitchell’s last visit before announcing will be to Florida State, so Auburn fans should be pulling for the Buckeyes in that race.
I fully expect Auburn to land another outstanding linebacker class in 2018. Once again Williams is constantly brought up as a major factor for a recruit’s interest in the program. It’s become clear that a position that once was so uncertain in the post Tuberville era has quickly become a position of stability for Auburn.
After the barrage of offers last week, seven this week feels kind of tame. The coaching staff continues to roam the southeast checking in with top targets and evaluating potential future top targets. Here’s who earned an offer this past week:
- 4* TE George Takacs - Takacs can do it all at the TE position. He has a big frame at 6’6” 235 with great hands, decent speed and is a solid blocker. Auburn wants to take at least one TE in this class. As of now Notre Dame looks like team to beat for this kid.
- 3* CB D.J. Crossen - Another DB offer is out and it’s to another 6’2” prospect. It’s becoming clear Greg Brown prefers size at the DB spot which hasn’t always been the case for AU DBs in recent seasons.
- DE Caleb Johnson - Johnson currently plays MLB for his high school team but given the fact he’s 6’4” 245 lbs as a rising senior in high school, his future is most likely at DE. Great athlete who can drop back in coverage and hold his own on top of being a very good run stopper. He’s unrated right now but that will no doubt change very soon.
- 2019 RB Cesare “Chez” Mellusi - This kid has that extra gear he can hit when he sees open field. I imagine given his great receiving skills paired with his big time speed he will be a favorite of Chip Lindsey’s in the 2019 class.
- 2020 RB Ashaad “Shady” Clayton - Vision is the first thing that jumps out watching Clayton’s tape. He seems to have a great feel for reading blocks and finding lanes to pick up yards in chunks. Considering he’s only a rising sophomore at 6’0” 184 lbs, I feel pretty confident this kid will end up a high 4*, possibly 5* in the 2020 class. UGA is his other early SEC offer.
- 2020 ATH Arik Gilbert - Gilbert is a rising sophomore and is already 6’5” 232 lbs holding offers from some of the top teams in the nation including Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan and now Auburn. Honestly not sure what position he plays at the next level given that he lines up as a WR, TE and DE for his high school team. My best bet is he ends up a DE but no matter the position this kid will be a highly sought after player in the 2020 class.
- 2020 DE BJ Olujari - No film out on this kid yet but considering he’s landed four P5 offers in two days as a rising sophomore, chances are good he can play. His brother, 3* DE Azeez Ojulari, also holds an AU offer and is a top Buck target in the 2018 class. You have to think whichever team lands Azeez will have a really good shot at BJ in two years.
- I try and recap offers each week but in case I missed any or you want a quick refresher on what prospects landed AU offers in April, check out Keith Niebuhr’s slideshow recapping all the offers that went out last month.
- One of the more interesting recruitments to track this year is 4* WR Seth Williams. He lives right in Bama’s backyard (attends Paul W Bryant high school...) but Auburn actually has a really good shot at him thanks in large part to the fact no one is recruiting him harder than Kodi Burns.
- In 2017 news, 4* DE Big Cat Bryant ended up in the hospital after a “freak accident” this past week. He should be fully recovered by fall camp.