AUBURN — In a bit of irony, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn wanted to focus this National Signing Day on what didn’t happen.
Without having what either Rivals.com or 247Sports.com ranks as a top-10 class and without picking up a five-star prospect in Wednesday’s haul. Rivals had Auburn’s class at No. 11, while 247sports tabbed the Tigers at No. 12.
Malzahn didn’t focus on that. Instead, he cast his attention on Auburn’s definition of a commitment.
Malzahn, who just signed a seven-year extension worth $49 million dollars and $36.75 million guaranteed, wanted to point out the amount of commitments to the Tigers’ 2018 recruiting class who renounced their pledge: zero.
“We held on to our commitments,” Malzahn said. “For the second year in a row, we had no decommitments, and I bet there’s very few coaches around the country that can say that. That’s a big tribute to the kids we’re recruiting. The relationships are long term. That’s a tribute to our staff.”
Malzahn wasn’t shy about mentioning what also didn’t happen was a big signee among the two positional categories he identified in December during the early period: offensive tackle and tight end.
“This next class will definitely (be) a focus of offensive line,” Malzahn said Wednesday.
After signing 15 prospects during the early period in December, Auburn hung on to its eight verbal pledges and added three-star uncommitted defensive end Caleb Johnson from Columbus, Ga., to fill out its 24-player class.
The drama-free day started early with the announcement of the signed national letter of intent by Matthew Hill, which ended a long but theatrical recruitment in which the Georgia native continued to go on visits and accept home visits from opposing coaching staff despite pledging to Auburn’s 2018 class this past August.
“We really feel like he’s one of the better football players in all of the country,” Malzahn said. “This guy can do it all. He’s the type of guy that you just want to get the ball in his hands.”
The early announcement at 7 a.m. of the signing of Hill was supposed to deflect from the afternoon disappointments of losing the five-star duo of Justyn Ross (Clemson) and JaMarr Chase (LSU) to rival programs.
However, Auburn’s 2018 class held four players (early signee Shedrick Jackson and Seth Williams along with speedster Anthony Schwartz to go with Hill). The quartet of pass-catching threats is expected to resemble the highly touted 2016 class of Eli Stove, Nate Craig-Myers, Marquis McClain and Kyle Davis. That 2016 class of receivers has only totaled 86 total receptions over two seasons and includes the dismissal of Davis from the program.
The four wide receivers in the 2018 class will be behind projected starters Ryan Davis, Darius Slayton, Will Hastings, Nate Craig-Myers and Stove, but Auburn’s coaching staff isn’t going to limit the high expectations of this group when they arrive for spring practices and/or preseason camp.
“With our wide receivers, signing four guys, that we feel like can all help us next year,” Malzahn said.
Special teams also got a boost in this class with the addition of former Australian Rules football player Arryn Siposs as the ProKick Australia product expects to be the starting punter from the moment the 25-year-old arrives on the Auburn campus. Malzahn said he watched two Austrailian Rules football games on television and trusted the recommendation of ProKick Australia, which has produced multiple Ray Guy Award winners and finalists.
“You can tell whether he’s a competitor (and) he’s a great athlete,” Malzahn said. “He can kick it with his right foot, left foot and give us a lot of flexibility with our punt team. He’s got a super leg. I would bet he’s not going to be scared to tackle. He’s been tackling without pads on.”
Malzahn also addressed the final missing element in his previous recruiting classes — multiple junior college prospects. Auburn only signed Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product Daquan Newkirk, who the Tigers also recruited as a high school product out of high school in Orlando, Fla., and Malzahn mentioned the depth of the program’s roster to allow them to not have to find instant impact players in this class.
“We have had solid recruiting classes one after another,” Malzahn said. “If we have a junior college player of need for that particular position, we’ll definitely recruit him if they fit. I think it says more about how stable we are with our depth.”