Despite late drama, Tigers ink stellar class

Florence started the day off right for the Tigers

Minutes after securing one of the nation’s best classes for the second year in a row Wednesday, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said he and the staff “scratched all the right itches” as far as recruiting needs.

But there’s still probably a bit of irritation in one spot the Tigers haven’t scratched yet.

Five-star tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, the consensus top tackle in the nation, staged one of the biggest coups of Signing Day by announcing his intention to sign with Auburn live on ESPNU.

The Tigers were late closers for Kouandjio, who seemed destined to join his brother, Arie, at Alabama, and his addition signaled the close of one of the best offensive line classes assembled in recent memory.

But, not long after his announcement, Kouandjio’s commitment to Auburn seemed a little less clear.

“The words just came out,” Kouandjio said after his announcement ceremony at DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville, Md. “It was Alabama or Auburn, and Auburn just came out of my mouth.”

Kouandjio did not fax his letter of intent to Auburn on Wednesday and said there was “still doubt in (his) mind.”

Chizik declined comment on players that have not officially signed with Auburn, saying, “I’m only going to talk about the ones that we’ve got paperwork in.”

With Kouandjio, Auburn has a consensus top-three class, coming in third on Rivals.com, second on ESPN.com and first on Scout.com.

Without Kouandjio, the 24 the Tigers signed Wednesday still form a stellar group, complete with big-time signees at problem spots.

As Mike Berry, Byron Isom, Ryan Pugh and Lee Ziemba step out from the offensive line, Reese Dismukes, Thomas O’Reilly, Greg Robinson and Christian Westerman — and possibly still Kouandjio — step in.

Dismukes, the top-rated center in the country, and O’Reilly, a four-star guard according to ESPN, have already enrolled in school and will be on hand for spring practice.

Westerman, the top guard in the nation according to Scout, and Robinson, a four-star guard the Tigers plucked from the heart of LSU country, also appear ready to contribute right away.

“We were trying to not necessarily bring a guy in that we felt like three years from now could help us,” Chizik said. “We feel like every one of these guys have the ability, depending on how fast they learn, to come in here and help us immediately.”

Auburn also welcomed 2010 tackle signee Shon Coleman, who missed last year after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, to school in January.

Chizik said Coleman is in a medical hardship situation, and there’s not yet a timetable for his return to the field.

“We are just going to let time go by and just kind of see how he progresses,” Chizik said. “There’s no rush for anything. He’s doing great, he looks great. He’s doing well in school and that’s our main concern right now. Whatever happens football-wise, that’s all icing on the cake, if and when that happens.”

Auburn addressed a big need at defensive tackle — after the loss of Nick Fairley, Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc — with the commitment of four-star Carver (Ga.) product Gabe Wright on ESPNU.

Wright pulled out an Auburn hat and put it on backwards on the broadcast, with a message of “Nick Who?” — referring to the possible first pick of the NFL Draft — stitched into it.

“It just came down to who was there first, who’s been there the longest, and where I feel comfortable at,” said Wright, who chose the Tigers over Tennessee. “And that’s at Auburn.”

The Tigers also stocked up in the secondary, which was a weak link last year and lost three starters in Zac Etheridge, Aairon Savage and Demond Washington.

Auburn filled those gaps with four-star safety Erique Florence and four-star cornerbacks Jonathan Rose, Jermaine Whitehead and Robenson Therezie.

Florence (Valley) and Rose (Leeds) are in-state products, Therezie is a heavy hitter from Miami, Fla., that can play cornerback or safety, and Whitehead was a Mississippi State commit for nine months before opening up his recruitment after a visit to Auburn last weekend.

All four had experience on the offensive side of the ball in high school.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” Chizik said. “Our idea is, even in the secondary, the more they have their hands on the ball and the more they touch the ball and they’re used to doing that, then I think you build in the ability back there to get turnovers and make interceptions and things of that nature. That’s one of the parts that we really wanted to stress.”

Auburn also picked up versatile athletes in Quan Bray (RB/WR), Kris Frost (LB/WR) and first signee of the day C.J. Uzomah (TE/H-back/Wildcat QB), as well as shifty running back Tre Mason, that
Chizik said could cause opposing teams fits in Gus Malzahn’s offense.

Mason helped lessen some of the sting felt after Russellville RB/LB Brent Calloway switched back to Alabama after being committed to Auburn for nearly a month.

And, almost lost amidst the insanity of Signing Day, was the top-flight quarterback Auburn had on lockdown since May: Springdale (Ark.) dual-threat signal-caller Kiehl Frazier.

“He is one of the heart and souls of this class,” Chizik said. “I told him today on the phone how much I appreciate him. He’s never once wavered or thought about anything else except helping recruit a great class. He has been our No. 1 guy that has gone out and talked to all the other kids about coming to Auburn.

“We couldn’t be more proud of him.”

dmorrison@oanow.com | 737-2568

Auburn Class of 2011
Kris Frost     ATH 6-2, 215   Matthews, N.C.  5-star
Cyrus Kouandjio   OL   6-7, 322   Hyattsville, Md.  5-star*
Quan Bray     ATH 5-11, 170   LaGrange, Ga.  4-star
Jaylon Denson   WR 6-3, 190   Hoover, Ala.    4-star
Reese Dismukes   C   6-3, 290   Spanish Fort, Ala.  4-star
Erique Florence   S   6-2, 190   Valley, Ala.    4-star
Kiehl Frazier   QB 6-3, 210   Springdale, Ark.  4-star
Brandon Fulse   TE 6-5, 252   Fort Meade, Fla.  4-star
Tre Mason     RB 5-10, 190   Lake Worth, Fla.  4-star
Greg Robinson   OL 6-5, 305   Thibodaux, La.  4-star
Jonathan Rose   CB 6-1, 175   Leeds, Ala.    4-star
Robenson Therezie CB 5-10, 195   Miami, Fla.    4-star
Christian Westerman OL 6-5, 285   Chandler, Ariz.  4-star
Jermaine Whitehead CB 6-0, 187   Greenwood, Miss.  4-star
Gabe Wright   DL 6-4, 310   Columbus, Ga.  4-star
Angelo Blackson   DL 6-5, 295   Bear, Del.    3-star
Sammie Coates   WR 6-3, 180   Leroy, Ala.    3-star
Justin Garrett   LB 6-2, 200   Tucker, Ga.    3-star
Keymiya Harrell   DE 6-5, 235   Plantersville, Ala.  3-star
Chris Landrum   LB 6-3, 235   Sweet Water, Ala.  3-star
JaBrian Niles   DL 6-3, 260   Mobile, Ala.    3-star
Thomas O’Reilly   OL 6-3, 313   Marietta, Ga.    3-star
Devaunte Sigler   DL   6-4, 255   Mobile, Ala.    3-star
Anthony Swain   S 6-2, 205   Gadsden, Ala.  3-star
C.J. Uzomah   ATH 6-5, 235   Suwannee, Ga.  3-star
Recruits ordered by rating and last name; Star ratings from Rivals.com.
* — Kouandjio committed to Auburn, but has yet to sign.

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