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5.26.23 Football Articles


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Jayson Jones: 'If we're going to be family, we've got to act like family'

Zac Blackerby
2–3 minutes

In this new era of college football, team chemistry is crucial.

When you combine the transfer portal era of college football and a new coach in Hugh Freeze that knows he needs to add talent to the roster to compete in the SEC, you're going to see a dramatic turnover of the roster.

Looking at the portal class and the members of the 2023 signing class, Auburn is projected to enter the 2023 season, with over a third of the roster being new faces compared to a year ago.

Auburn defensive lineman Jayson Jones values the importance of the closeness of a locker room. There are a lot of different relationships to build this season.

"Obviously, those relationships will happen in due time because, you know, y'all aren't familiar with each other, but it's always good to get to know your teammates right then and there," Jones said. "Especially on that first day when y'all come back off of the little break that we do get. Sure. And at least introduce yourself, your name, where you're from, that type of stuff. So, um, it isn’t like, ‘Oh, you got to earn your respect type of thing around here. If we're going to be family, we've got to act like family." 

With all of these new faces, there will be more urgency in the development of this team and roster.

"The team will look totally different, but that's just even more of a reason to try and bond with your teammates," Jones said. "You have to get to know everyone as quickly as possible because guess what the season is going to be here in about two months, two, three, four months. So. You got too, you know, it's going to, it's going to come quick."

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OT Dillon Wade


  11645557.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320 Tulsa transfer Dillon Wade is wearing number 52 for the Tigers. (Photo: Jason Caldwell/Auburnundercover, 247Sports)

Previous school: Tulsa

Committed to Auburn: Dec. 23

Career stats (2 seasons): 12 starts, 17 game appearances

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 29 overall, No. 1 OT

Auburn Undercover's take: Wade was rated so highly in the portal for a reason, despite only starting one season at the Group of Five level: He's displayed significant growth in each of his two college seasons in which he saw the field, and his film was highly respected once he hit the transfer portal, garnering offers from Auburn, USC, Ohio State, Oklahoma, TCU, Ole Miss and Colorado, among others. During spring ball Wade slotted in as Auburn's starting left tackle and has NFL potential, likely as a guard.


OT Gunner Britton


  11670121.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320 Gunner Britton is a good looking transfer OT from Western Kentucky. (Photo: Jason Caldwell/Auburnundercover, 247Sports)

Previous school: Western Kentucky

Committed to Auburn: Jan. 5

Career stats (4 seasons): 19 starts, 45 game appearances

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 78 overall, No. 6 OT

Auburn Undercover's take: With SEC-ready size at 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds, Britton boasts plenty of experience — and versatility — at the Group of Five level. With Wade slotting in at left tackle, Britton took over the right tackle position for Auburn this spring and provides plenty of experience for an Auburn offensive line that needed it.


DL Mosiah Nasili-Kite


11670142.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320 Maryland transfer Mosiah Nasili-Kite gets ready for Monday's practice. (Photo: Jason Caldwell/Auburnundercover, 247Sports)

Previous school: Maryland

Committed to Auburn: Jan. 8

Career stats (3 seasons): 80 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, 9 sacks, 1 fumble recovery

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 180 overall, No. 20 DL

Auburn Undercover's take: Nasili-Kite represents exactly what the Tigers needed from the transfer ranks along the defensive front: a veteran to complement returning starters Marcus Harris and Jayson Jones who appears ready to contribute well from Day 1. It's also a bonus that Nasili-Kite was versatile enough with the Terrapins, at 6-foot-2 and 305 pounds, to play a variety of spots along the D-line, and he was a strong pass-rusher, too, finishing No. 2 on the team in QB pressures last season. Auburn's players and staffers spoke highly of Nasili-Kite this spring, as he projects to be a big part of Auburn's defensive line rotation.


LB DeMario Tolan


11683187.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320 LSU transfer linebacker DeMario Tolan works on punching the ball out during drills. (Photo: Jason Caldwell/Auburnundercover, 247Sports)

Previous school: LSU

Committed to Auburn: Jan. 8

Career stats (1 season): 10 tackles

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 156 overall, No. 14 LB

Auburn Undercover's take: A versatile athlete at 6-foot-2 and 222 pounds, Tolan isn't a proven contributor joining Ron Roberts' defense. He's not a plug-and-play addition who will automatically contender for a spot in the starting rotation. But the former top-200 recruit does represent a boost to a position group that doesn't have much in terms of proven depth after the loss of Owen Pappoe, who's off to the NFL draft. In the spring Tolan was still figuring out a new system and new role, but should make an impact in 2023 and will be a bigger part of the defense in the coming seasons.


DT Lawrence Johnson


11560485.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320(Photo: Joe Robbins, Getty)

Previous school: Purdue 

Committed to Auburn: Jan. 8

Career stats (4 seasons): 88 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble

247Sports transfer ranking: No.479 overall, No. 47 DL

Auburn Undercover's take: Johnson helps Auburn with its continued alleviation of pressure on the youngsters on the D-line, allowing for patient development and progression under the new defensive staff. While Auburn may not have as dominant a force in 2023 as someone like Colby Wooden, it's bulking up the defensive front with experience in hopes of offsetting its losses by committee, and its rotation next season might be capable of going deeper than in 2022.


WR Nick Mardner


11645551.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320 Big wide receiver transfer Nick Mardner with a run after the catch. (Photo: Jason Caldwell/Auburnundercover, 247Sports)

Previous school: Cincinnati

Committed to Auburn: Jan. 9

Career stats (4 seasons): 81 catches, 1,488 yards, 11 TDs

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 266 overall, No. 58 WR

Auburn Undercover's take: Rejoining his former position coach Marcus Davis, who coached him at Hawaii in 2021, Mardner joins a receiving corps with plenty of intriguing pieces but not many standouts. At 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, Mardner will compete with rising sophomore Camden Brown on the outside. Mardner's best college season came under Davis' tutelage at Hawaii, when he was an All-Mountain West selection with 46 receptions, 913 yards and five touchdowns. Still limited by an injury in the spring, Mardner wasn't talked about heavily and more transfers are on the way, but at minimum, Mardner is a strong redzone threat.


RB Brian Battie


11645526.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320(Photo: Jason Caldwell/Auburnundercover, 247Sports)

Previous school: USF

Committed to Auburn: Jan. 9

Career stats (3 seasons): 1,842 yards, 10 TDs; 24.2 yards per kick return, 3 TDs

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 71 overall, No. 6 RB

Auburn Undercover's take: To help offset the loss of Tank Bigsby, Auburn could have done a whole lot worse than bringing in a 1,000-yard rusher in 2022 and a special teams All-American in 2021. He'll obviously be expected to make a huge impact in the Tigers' return units, but in Cadillac Williams' room, Battie serves as a highly productive veteran to pair with Jarquez Hunter, who figures to be Auburn's lead back after waiting behind Bigsby for two seasons.


C Avery Jones


11751454.JPG?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,off(Photo: Greg McWilliams, 247Sports)

Previous school: East Carolina

Committed to Auburn: Jan. 10

Career stats (3 seasons): 31 starts, 33 game appearances

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 13 overall, No. 2 IOL

Auburn Undercover's take: Jones, who spurned a previous transfer commitment to Illinois, had the No. 8 pass-blocking grade among Group of Five centers last season, and allowed only one sack in pass protection, per Pro Football Focus. He projects as Auburn's starting center this year, as he spent the spring dominating the position and reps.


DT Justin Rogers


11670053.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320(Photo: Jason Caldwell / Auburn Undercover, 247Sports)

Previous school: 

Committed to Auburn: Jan. 12

Career stats (3 seasons): 61 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 sacks

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 44 overall, No. 6 DL

Auburn Undercover's take: One of Auburn's biggest portal wins, the likes of LSU and Alabama were in the mix, but Auburn got him on campus and got a commitment shortly after. In Kentucky's system the former highly-rated offensive line recruit showed flashes, but never quite put it all together. This spring though, in Auburn's new system, all the buzz surrounded Rogers as one of the biggest new names to watch.


LB Austin Keys


11670138.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320 Ole Miss transfer Austin Keys is a physical linebacker. (Photo: Jason Caldwell/Auburnundercover, 247Sports)

Previous school: Ole Miss

Committed to Auburn: Jan. 14

Career stats (2 seasons): 51 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 392 overall, No. 32 LB

Auburn Undercover's take: Coming in this spring, it was assumed Keys would step into the starting role at the mike linebacker position. And for the majority of spring, Keys did exactly that and held down the middle for Auburn's defense. After slotting Pappoe out of position in the middle, Keys is a psychical linebacker capable of holding his own in the SEC and in Roberts' system.


Jack LB Jalen McLeod


11751011.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320(Photo: Jalen McLeod)

Previous school: App State

Committed to Auburn: May 2

Career stats (3 seasons): 75 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 9 sacks, 3 forced fumbles

247Sports transfer ranking: N/A

Auburn Undercover's take: The first portal pickup for Auburn in the second transfer window, McLeod was a crucial one at a crucial position. After already landing McAllister, McLeod comes in as the true pass-rush, speed threat off the edge. Listed by App State at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, McLeod brings some bend on the outside and projects as Auburn's third down and pass-rush specialist.


QB Payton Thorne


11416686.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320(Photo: Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY Sports)

Previous school: Michigan State

Committed to Auburn: May 5

Career stats (3 seasons): 6,493 yards, 49 TDs, 24 INTs, 61 percent completion percentage, 270 rushing yards, 6 rushing TDs

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 566 overall, No. 41 QB

Auburn Undercover's take: All eyes will continue to be on the quarterback position as Freeze and offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery went out and landed the former Michigan State Spartan. Former Nebraska and Texas quarterback Casey Thompson was another option, but Thorne was the choice, visiting shortly after entering the portal and committing shortly after. Thorne has already been on campus over a week now and will battle Robby Ashford and Holden Geriner for the starting spot.


WR Caleb Burton


11750495.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320(Photo: Christian Clemente/Auburn247, 247Sports)

Previous school: Ohio State

Committed to Auburn: May 6

Career stats (1 season): N/A

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 191 overall, No. 40 WR

Auburn Undercover's take: At one point, the Texas native was a top-10 recruit in the country. But injuries in high school dropped Burton down, though he still ended as a top-10 wideout and the No. 71 player. The injury bug struck again at Ohio State, as he didn't see the field as a freshman in a loaded Buckeye receiver room. Capable of playing in the slot or outside, there are not many with a higher ceiling if Burton can stay healthy for Auburn.


OL Jaden Muskrat


11739466.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320 Jaden Muskrat (Photo: Brett Rojo, USA TODAY Sports)

Previous school: Tulsa

Committed to Auburn: May 8

Career stats (3 seasons): 12 starts in 2022

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 633 overall, No. 41 IOL

Auburn Undercover's take: After snagging Wade, who was Tulsa's left tackle last year, Auburn went out and got the right tackle in Muskrat, too. A former defensive line recruit turned offensive lineman, Muskrat is expected to slot in as a guard for Auburn and has the potential to be an emergency tackle if needed.


WR Jyaire SHorter


11766002.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320 Jyaire Shorter (Photo: Daniel Dunn, USA TODAY Sports)

Previous school: North Texas

Committed to Auburn: May 16

Career stats (5 seasons): 58 receptions, 1,320 yards, 20 TDs

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 192 overall, No. 41 WR

Auburn Undercover's take: Statistically one of college football's best deep threats in 2022, Shorter averaged over 27 yards per catch in a shaky North Texas passing game. At over 6-foot-2, Shorter also brings some more size to Auburn's receiver room, capable of being a deep threat and physical threat in the passing game. 


LB Larry Nixon III


11766837.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320(Photo: Christian Clemente, 247Sports)

Previous school: North Texas

Committed to Auburn: May 16

Career stats (3 seasons): 245 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 422 overall, No. 36 LB

Auburn Undercover's take: Auburn double dipped on North Texas transfer standouts, with Nixon III joining Shorter just a few hours after his commitment. It was a battle to land Nixon III, with Miami and West Virginia — where his former position coach is — both putting their best foot forward. But Auburn, with a need to add more experience at the will linebacker position with Tolan, won out.


Jack LB Stephen Sings V


11776693.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,off(Photo: Getty)

Previous school: Liberty

Committed to Auburn: May 20

Career stats (3 seasons): 48 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 9 sacks, 7 sacks

247Sports transfer ranking: N/A

Auburn Undercover's take: After Auburn missed out on former James Madison edge rusher Isaac Ukwu, the staff quickly pivoted to a name with plenty familiarity in the former Flame. Sings isn't the flashiest addition for Auburn, but it's another much-needed body at the jack linebacker spot who can help rotate in and give Auburn's starters some time to rest.


WR Shane Hooks


11772279.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,off(Photo: Chris Day, USA TODAY Sports)

Previous school: Jackson State

Committed to Auburn: May 2

Career stats (5 seasons): 114 catches, 1,582 yards, 18 TDs

247Sports transfer ranking: No. 190 overall, No. 39 WR

Auburn Undercover's take: Another — literally — massive addition for Auburn's offense, Hooks is over 6-foot-4 and measured in with 11-inch hands during his visit. Now, with the additions of Hooks, Mardner, Shorter, Burton and Camden Brown on roster, Auburn all of a sudden has some more size, options and experience on the outside. At one point Hooks was committed to Ole Miss, but backed off that pledge and Auburn jumped.

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Snider grad Johnson gearing up for season at Auburn

Glenn Marini
2–3 minutes

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Snider High School graduate Lawrence Johnson is taking advantage of his extra year of eligibility due to the COVID pandemic – and he’s taking his game to the toughest conference in college football.

Johnson committed to Auburn University in January, and the defensive lineman will suit up for new head coach Hugh Freeze. Freeze takes over a traditionally strong program looking to bounce back after posting a 5-7 record last year.

Johnson, a three year starter at Purdue, helped the Boilermakers win the Big Ten West title last season. He graduated from Purdue last fall, earning his degree in Law & Society and was a three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection.

A six-foot-three, 310-pound defensive tackle, Johnson was a stalwart on the Purdue defensive line the past four seasons.

After graduating from Snider in 2018, Johnson redshirted the following fall at Purdue. In 2019 he played in all 12 games – including 9 starts – for the Boilermakers. In the COVID-shortened season of 2020 he played in all 6 games with 2 starts, then started all 13 games in 2021.

Following the 2021 season Johnson underwent hip surgery followed by shoulder surgery.

During the 2022 season with Purdue Johnson’s played in all 14 games, with 29 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.

A two-time selection to the WANE-TV Fab 15 as a star at Snider, Johnson won the positional Mr. Football Award for defensive line as a senior for the Panthers as the top defensive lineman in the state of Indiana. Snider won the 5A state title Johnson’s sophomore year, beating New Palestine 64-61 at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2015.

Auburn opens the 2023 season at home against UMass on September 2.

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