#58: Jeffrey Whitaker
A part of the 2010 class that proved pivotal in the Auburn football program, Whitaker came to Auburn ready to play right off the bat. In fact, Whitaker played in every game of the 2010 season, occasionally spelling superstar Nick Fairley. When Fairley moved on to the NFL after 2010, Whitaker stepped into the starting role as a true sophomore and started every game in the 2011 season. Whitaker was never much of a pass rusher, but his play-style was akin to Dontavious Russell - take on double teams and let guys like Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford eat.
Whitaker was again slated as the starter in 2012, but injuries derailed what should have been a strong junior campaign. As is to be expected, anything that touched 2012 was a disaster.
With a new staff and sense of optimism around the program going into 2013, senior Jeff Whitaker was supposed to reclaim his role as a senior starter on the defensive line. However, Whitaker may have become Auburn fans’ first experience with the infamous Gus coach-speak when he was announced out of the Washington State opener. When reporters questioned Gus about his status after the game, the new head coach’s only response was “he’ll be out for a while” and “we’ll see when he gets back”.
“A while” turned into “next season”, as we later found out the defensive tackle had torn his meniscus. Whitaker took a medical redshirt in 2013, and tried to come back in 2014, but other back injuries forced him off the field and ended his Auburn playing career. Despite loads of talent and a fast start at Auburn, injuries stole what could have been a great college career and possible NFL career away.
#57: Prince Tega Wanogho, Jr.
Prince Tega Wanogho, Jr. had a bit of a different recruitment story, as relayed by former C&Mander-in-chief Walt Austin:
The 6’8”, 205 lbs Nigerian was a 2016 recruit until January, when his transcripts arrived from Nigeria and he was reclassified to 2015. From there, his recruitment became a whirlwind of activity. He visited LSU in mid-January, and then suffered a horrible injury to his leg while playing basketball shortly before his planned visit to Auburn.
Tega came to Auburn out of Edgewood Academy in Elmore, Alabama, as a monster defensive end. However, between his reclassifying, his broken leg and subsequent redshirt, and his position change early in his Auburn career, a lot of fans thought Tega had been lost in depth chart.
Come 2016, Tega took on the 6th lineman role in the Malzahn offense previously held by guys like Shon Coleman and Braden Smith. Though we didn’t see Tega play a ton of true offensive tackle, he did gain some invaluable experience about playing football in the SEC. After all, he had only been playing football for four years or so at that point.
Tega would go on to win the starting left tackle job going into 2017 after Austin Golson and Darius James (the 2017 starting center and right tackle) manned the position in 2016. While Tega didn’t look awful, it was clear he maybe wasn’t ready for the job. The game at Clemson was particularly rough, when a unit full of now NFL defensive lineman ate his lunch and sacked Jarrett Stidham 11 times. Tega would split time with James starting in 2017, and there was some improvement throughout the year.
The redshirt junior was one of the few bright spots on the offensive line in 2018, starting every game and earning the All-SEC nod from Pro Football focus. Unfortunately, the rest of the line play was terrible, which made it hard to recognize Tega’s good play.
In fact, the 6’8” Nigerian could have gone to the NFL and likely been drafted this offseason, but decided to return to anchor what is hopefully a dynamic offense in 2019. Tega has already has NFL scouts eyes on him, and a solid 2019 campaign for a guy who is still growing and learning could propel him up draft boards for the 2020 big event.
#56: Kris Frost
Kris Frost came to Auburn as one of the top linebacker recruits in the country after the magic that was the 2010 season. As player, he’s kind of the opposite of what Auburn looks for in a linebacker these days: At 6’3” 215 coming out of high school, Frost was a big, imposing guy with athletic ability that was off the charts. It would not have been surprising to see him play safety or wide receiver in college. That being said, he was a bit raw at linebacker and needed to add some weight, so he redshirted his freshman year and played only sparingly in 2012 as a backup to future NFL-er Darren Bates and Auburn legend Jake Holland.
As was the case with so many players, with a new staff in 2013 came chances for new guys to make an impact, and Frost took full advantage of that. While Holland, being a senior, still started most of the games in 2013, Frost rotated in a healthy amount, recording 58 tackles, 4 TFL, and forcing a fumble in the SEC Championship game.
Frost was the bonafide starter next to Cassanova McKinzy in 2014, and racked up 87 tackles and 10 TFL to go with 3.5 sacks and an INT. The 2014 defense was criticized constantly (for good reason), but the linebacker group was probably the best unit on the defense. Frost recorded a career high 14 tackles in the South Carolina win, even though the defense as a whole was essentially useless, allowing the Head Ball Coach’s offense to score touchdowns on five of their eight possessions that night.
Frost’s productive 2014 led to him receiving plenty of NFL buzz and award watch-list consideration going into 2015, especially as the Tigers touted a #6 preseason ranking. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off big time for the offense that year, even as the defense (under new DC Will Muschamp) transitioned into a relatively solid unit. I’m not sure if scheme necessitated Frost to play more coverage in his senior season, but while he increased his tackles from 87 to 96, his TFL fell to 3, as well as no sacks and 2 interceptions.
Frost experience, football IQ, production, and size lined up him to be a solid pick to be a mid round NFL Draftee, but injuries found during his evaluation process tanked whatever chance Frost had at an NFL career. In fact, he was even able to cash out a $1.5 million insurance policy on account of his injuries.
Despite a long and productive career at Auburn, I’m afraid Frost will be one of those guys most fans just don’t remember in 10-20 years. He never (as far as I can recall) had a signature moment, and his two years as a starter saw the team disappoint despite tons of hype in the preseason.
#55: Shon Coleman
Shon Coleman had one of the more memorable paths to Auburn in recent memory. Originally the #1 player in the state of Mississippi in 2010, Coleman was expected to come in and compete for a starting job as a sophomore once the large offensive line class graduated in 2010. However, just weeks after signing with Auburn, Coleman was diagnosed with leukemia. It would be two long years until the former top recruit would get to even begin football activities, but Coach Chizik and the rest of the Auburn staff kept his scholarship ready for him.
Come spring of 2012, Coleman was ready to begin working out with the football team again. Obviously, having gone through cancer treatments and being two-plus years away from playing any kind of football meant he had quite a bit of catching up to do, so he took a redshirt in 2012. By the fall of 2013, in what should have been his senior season, Coleman was ready to play. He took on the “sixth man” position on the offensive line and backed up Greg Robinson, and got his proverbial “sea legs” back underneath him.
When Robinson became a #2 overall pick after 2013, Robinson was ready to pick up the starting left tackle role.
“I never doubted it,” Coleman said. “Faith, that’s been one of the biggest things that’s just kept striving me forward, with my family, and just working hard.”
Coleman looked the part of his recruiting pedigree as a 23 year old redshirt freshman, helping the Nick Marshall-led offense in 2014 look the part as one of the best in the nation, including helping lay 44 points on Alabama. Coleman came back as the starter in 2015, and despite the offense falling apart that season, Coleman was not the man to blame.
Coleman suffered a knee injury before he could work out at the NFL Combine in 2016, but his body of work spoke for itself - the Cleveland Browns took the two year Auburn starter in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He was a backup for most of 2016, whlie also rehabbing his knee, but he earned the starting job in 2017 and started every game for the Browns that year. Coleman now plays for the San Francisco 49ers.