AUBURN, Ala. In August, DaVonte Lambert verbally committed to Tennessee.
It appeared he was set to become a noteworthy example of coach Butch Jones motto of rebuilding the Volunteers program brick-by-brick. But as a four-star defensive end prospect, Lamberts signature was in high demand. So the closer it got to junior college national signing day last month, the harder Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner pushed.
That persistence struck a chord with Lambert.
Coach Garner didnt give up on me, he said in a telephone interview Tuesday. It kind of just showed me that he had a lot of respect for me and my decision and that he wasnt going to stop recruiting me.
Garners doggedness paid off, as Lambert cast his lot with the Tigers on Dec. 18.
The Volunteer faithful, as one would expect, were not pleased. They werent shy about letting him know, either.
I got a lot of negative things from Tennessee fans, said Lambert, who made 36 tackles (14 of those for losses) last season at Georgia Military College. But during recruitment, that just happens. I didnt let it get in my way or take me out of focus.
Clarity came to Lambert in another form Nov. 30. Already starting to waver in his pledge to Tennessee thanks to Garner, everything fell into place when Lambert witnessed the intensity of the Iron Bowl first-hand.
It took me away, he said. That rivalry between Auburn and Alabama, I just knew that one day I wanted to play in that game.
Hell get his chance soon enough.
In the immediate future, however, his arrival in Auburn has been temporarily postponed. Even though Lambert finished up the junior college season last semester, he didnt qualify academically to enroll at Auburn this spring. Instead, hell likely begin classes in May or June.
When that happens, Lambert said hes already got a major in mind.
As of right now, Im thinking about physical therapy, he said. Its just something Ive been interested in since I was a little kid, so thats why Ive been thinking about that.
While hell have to wait a bit longer to officially start his career as a Tiger, Lambert has already started to familiarize himself with the campus. He was on hand this past weekend as Auburn hosted more than a dozen members of its incoming class on official visits. Lambert said he had already developed friendships with tight end Jakell Mitchell and linebacker Deshaun Davis, among others, giving him the opportunity to start forging bonds with Auburns other commits.
What aspect of the weekend stood out the most?
If I had to say only one thing, it was all the football players that were at the basketball game giving the Auburn basketball team support, said Lambert, referring to Auburns narrow, 68-61 loss to No. 7 Florida last Saturday. It showed me that they love sports. Theyre showing up to support other teams. It was good to see.
His fellow recruits werent the only players he conversed with, though. Lambert also took time to pick the brains of Gabe Wright, Ben Bradley and Jeff Whitaker, linemen who have had a year to learn under Garner. Ironically, its a departing lineman Lambert will most resemble when it comes to on-field responsibilities.
Just as Nosa Eguae did last year, Lambert said Auburns coaching staff envisions moving him between end and tackle.
Ill be playing defensive end on first and second down and then on third down Ill going against a guard, or maybe a center, at tackle, he said. Wherever they put me, Ill be ready to play.
Having had reps at both spots during his high school and junior college career, Lambert said hes comfortable at either position.
What might unnerve opponents in the coming years is the quality of this recruiting class, Lambert said.
Given how good the Tigers were this past season 12-2 overall, SEC champions and within 13 seconds of a BCS title Lambert said the 2014 recruiting haul will ensure theres no dropoff.
Its just amazing at all the talent coming in with this years class, he said. Its going to be phenomenal.