Wide receiver D'haquille Williams — considered the top junior college prospect in the country regardless of position — is one of five early enrollees who has started classes and is already "off to a good start," according to coach Gus Malzahn.
The 6-foot-3 Louisiana native was a JUCO All-American his freshman year at Mississippi Gulf Community College after catching 17 touchdowns and tallying 1,295 receiving yards. He was hampered by injuries this past season, but still led the team in every major receiving category, including receptions (51), yards (733) and touchdowns (nine).
The Tigers’ other early enrollees are receiver Stanton Truitt, center Xavier Dampeer, tight end Chris Laye and safety Derrick Moncrief. The five new members of Auburn's rosters will have the opportunity to take part in "discretionary workouts," where they have time to train on their own, before off-season workouts with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell begin next month.
Malzahn believes it's an inherent advantage for the early enrollees to jump right into the thick of things.
“It’s good, especially the junior college players because it’s a little easier transition," he said. "The high school guys, it’s something new. We’ve got a very good support staff. Their teammates have already developed relationships with them trying to help them out. That’s the great thing about our group — we’re a close team and they take care of each other.”
Williams, Dampeer and Moncrief are junior college transfers. Truitt and Laye, meanwhile, are straight from high school to begin their freshman year of college.
"The junior college guys, we expect to make an impact right off the bat," Malzahn said.
MASON PRAISE: For all his success this season, Tre Mason still has critics that don't believe he's capable of being a starting running back in the NFL.
Gil Brandt isn't among that group of naysayers.
NFL.com's senior analyst — who developed a reputation for spotting talent during his time as the Dallas Cowboys' vice president of player personnel from 1960-89 — believes Mason is one of the top three running backs available in May's NFL draft. Monday morning, Brandt listed Mason as the best running back prospect in the draft. After Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and LSU's Jeremy Hill declared later in the day, Brandt revised his rankings, putting Hill at the top followed by Carey at No. 2 and Mason as "No. 2A."
Still, Brandt holds the Heisman Trophy finalist in high regard, comparing him to former Cowboy great Tony Dorsett.
"The Dorsett comparison had to do with Mason's unbelievable quickness — he's the kind of back who can start and stop on a dime and leave you eight cents worth of change," Brandt wrote.
The NFL draft will be May 8-10 at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
ASSISTANT PAY: Auburn's turnaround season has already netted Gus Malzahn a new contract.
Now he is seeking raises for the rest of Auburn's coaching staff as well. Malzahn said Friday that he's already spoken with athletic director Jay Jacobs about upping the pay for the Tigers' assistants.
"We've got one of the best staffs in college football and we'll do everything in our power to keep them together," Malzahn said.
Auburn's nine assistants make a combined $3.459 million, ranking behind LSU ($4.565 million) and Alabama ($4.462 million) among SEC schools and fifth in FBS, according to a database compiled by USA Today. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is the highest-paid member of the Tigers' staff, making $800,000 annually, which ranks seventh in the nation among assistant coaching salaries.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who was a finalist for the Broyles Award — given to the top assistant in the country — makes $350,000 per year.
While still working through increases for his assistants, Malzahn agreed in principle to a six-year, $26.85 million deal before the SEC Championship Game. He has not signed his new contract, but said that will happen "in the near future."