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Auburn Is In Position For Another Great Defensive Line Recruiting Class

Brian Smith

2–3 minutes

Auburn’s 2025 recruiting class holds three verbal commitments from top defensive line recruits.

Among them are defensive end Jakaleb Faulk from Highland Home (Ala.) High School, defensive tackle Malik Autry from Opelika (Ala.) High School, and defensive tackle Jourdin Crawford from Birmingham (Ala.) Parker.

Looking at Rivals’ national recruiting rankings, all four of them are 4-star recruits. There’s more good news for the Tigers and their fans.

Each of these young men hails from inside the Yellowhammer State. That means beating out Alabama for top defensive line targets, arguably as tough as it gets in the college football recruiting world.

There’s also stacking back-to-back top defensive line classes. Auburn’s 2024 recruiting haul is quite impressive along the defensive trenches, so adding at least three more top-notch players would be a coup for Hugh Freeze and the Tigers. There’s still more.

It’s just May 13. With top recruits like Enterprise (Ala.) edge defender Zion Grady, Alabaster (Ala.) Thompson defensive end Jared Smith, Warner Robins (Ga.) High School edge defender Isaiah Gibson, Manchester (Ga.) High School defensive lineman Justus Terry, Savannah (Ga.) edge defender Herbert Scroggins, Savannah (Ga.) Calvary Day defensive tackle Walter Mathis, and Saraland (Ala.) defensive tackle Antonio Coleman are all in the mix with the Tigers, among others. This group could aid Auburn’s 2025 defensive line haul to become top-five nationally.

The key here would be the official visits. Several of these recruits will trek to Auburn for their official visits between May 31 and June 21. One should expect college decisions to be made before June concludes and if not then by early July, for most of these prospects.

If the Tigers can win just one or two more defensive line recruiting battles, the days of playing catch up to Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, and the like with defensive line recruiting will soon be over. That would be huge for the Tigers as they rebuild their roster to compete for SEC titles and more.

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247sports.com

For Freezes rosterbuilding retention is as important as recruiting

Nathan King

5–6 minutes

This past December was arguably the biggest month of Hugh Freeze's Auburn tenure thus far, as he and his staff inked a top-10 recruiting class and set an elite foundation to what Freeze believes can be a successful roster rebuild.

Around that same time of year in 2024, though, will be just as important. 

The Tigers get their first look at a number of highly anticipated freshmen this fall, and their introductions to the program figure to be exciting for a team that could use some added juice — especially on offense. 

As exciting as those players could be in their first seasons, Freeze wants to make sure he has them for a second, third and maybe fourth season, too. 

"This following December, when all those top guys I signed get all those calls, do relationships still matter?" Freeze said on The Paul Finebaum Show. "Will it stand the test of the storm when it comes? I don't know the answer to that yet."

Those calls, of course, come from the transfer portal, where tampering is at an all-time high in college football. It's on display wherever you look, with a player hitting the portal, and within minutes, reporters immediately sharing the most likely landing spots. Contact outside of the transfer portal is prohibited for coaches, of course, but third-party channels such as family members, friends and "NIL agents" run rampant and unregulated. 

And there's no way to avoid it. A flashy 2024 campaign for, say, 5-star receiver Cam Coleman or 5-star defensive lineman Amaris Williams will bring eyeballs from across the country, and other programs will speculate what they could do with that kind of talent, too. And if a freshman doesn't play much in Year 1, the pitch is that he could do so at another school. 

When Freeze talks about his shiny 2024, he isn't just envisioning their freshman seasons. He sees Coleman or quarterback-of-the-future Walker White winning an SEC title in a few years. 

However, Auburn's success this fall could depend heavily on the impact from that freshman class. Freeze took over a depleted roster and has restocked it over the past 17 months, and a large chunk of that talent hails from the 2024 class. Finding that fine line between pressure and development is key, but the fact that so many of those youngsters got practice reps in the spring as early enrollees is big.

"We had 18 of those guys on campus in spring ball," Freeze said. "I'm really excited about their future. Now, how quick can they translate into this league as freshmen? I don't know, we'll see. But I know we've made ourselves better."

Freeze has maintained from the start of his Auburn tenure that his roster-building tactics were going to lean a bit more traditional — in that he'd prefer not to go portal-heavy every single offseason. Still, the Tigers have signed 14 transfers this cycle, after 20 last year. Freeze would like those numbers to dwindle as he remakes the roster to his liking, but the portal isn't going away anytime soon.

Building from the high-school level, though, is Freeze's vision for Auburn to return to SEC contention by way of a strong talent base. Retooling a roster through the portal isn't a faulty method, either, as shown by the recent success of programs like Ole Miss. 

"Does my way work?" Freeze said. "I was very vocal: I'm going to recruit high-school kids. Obviously you've got to go to the portal some. But I didn't chase a lot of portal guys in December."

But for Freeze and his vision, retention is almost just as important as recruiting. Stacking talented classes — still with the majority of their parts intact — is key. Auburn's recruiting talent was lacking under Bryan Harsin, but it was just three years ago that the Tigers' 2021 class had an abysmal retention rate, with only one signee (running back Jarquez Hunter) remaining from that entire group. 

Auburn's improvement on the recruiting front is what Freeze can latch onto this offseason. How many wins that will translate into for 2024 remains to be seen. Freeze knows there needs to be improvement, especially after a sour finish to last season's 6-7 campaign. But in his conversations with Auburn's main movers and shakers, he shared there is strong optimism about the program's direction. 

"Our administration knows where we were," Freeze said. "They know and see what we've done and are doing. We're already recruiting really well in the '25 cycle. But it takes time to build."

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al.com

Former Auburn WR Ja’Varrius Johnson reportedly commits to UCF

Published: May. 14, 2024, 3:08 p.m.

~3 minutes

Auburn wide receiver Ja'Varrius Johnson (6) grabs a pass and takes it in for a touchdown against Alabama during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)AP

Former Auburn wide receiver Ja’Varrius Johnson committed to transfer to UCF, according to reports from On3.

At UCF, Johnson will be reunited with former Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn who originally recruited him to Auburn. Former Auburn staffer Trovon Reed now coaches the secondary at UCF, as well.

It is Johnson’s final year of eligibility.

Johnson entered the transfer portal in December after two consecutive seasons of having the most receiving yards among Auburn wide receivers.

The Hewitt-Trussville product totaled over 1,110 receiving yards over 34 games in the last three seasons.

At the time, he was the biggest name in a wide receiver exodus from Auburn with large changes impending. During the spring transfer window, Jay Fair — who was the only other wide receiver along with Johnson — also left Auburn and transferred to USC. Other receivers who transferred out of Auburn include Omari Kelly, Jyaire Shorter and Malcolm Johnson Jr.

Auburn’s overall leading pass catcher, tight end Rivaldo Fairweather, will return to the team in 2024.

Auburn overhauled its wide receiver room during the offseason bringing in the highest-rated group of high school receivers in program history led by five-star recruit Cam Coleman. It also added receivers out of the transfer portal including 2023 Penn State leading receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Georgia State receiver Robert Lewis and former Cal quarterback Sam Jackson V.

Head coach Hugh Freeze is banking on the several new pass-catching faces making for a significant change to the SEC’s statistically worst passing offense in 2023. Quarterback Payton Thorne is on track to remain the starter in 2024.

Matt Cohen covers Auburn sports for AL.com. You can follow him on X at @Matt_Cohen_ or email him at mcohen@al.com

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It's a new era of SEC football@Marvel

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