AUBURN, Ala. -- The 2011 signing class is one of Auburn’s best ever, universally lauded by recruiting sites as a consensus top-three group nationally.
Yet Tigers fans can’t help but feel concerned about the prize offensive tackle seemingly in their grasp who might yet slip away to their arch rival.
Auburn, fresh off its first BCS national championship, hauled in a group Scout ranked No. 1 in the country, ESPN No. 2 and Rivals No. 3, but those rankings include five-star Cyrus Kouandjio of Hyattsville, Md., the top offensive tackle prospect in the country.
Kouandjio committed to the Tigers while on ESPNU at midday only to have immediate doubts. He ended up not faxing in his letter of intent, keeping his recruitment open for the time being while he thinks about it.
“The words just came out,” Kouandjio said to Scout.com. “It was Alabama or Auburn and Auburn just came out of my mouth.”
Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who is not allowed to talk about unsigned recruits per NCAA rules, said he and his staff can continue to pursue players who have not signed, but he declined to go into specifics about how long that pursuit would be.
“I’m only going to talk about the ones that we’ve got paperwork in and we’ve signed,” Chizik said.
The group Auburn did sign was impressive. The Tigers signed one five-star player and 13 four-stars, according to Rivals.
Chizik was less impressed by the star ratings as the needs Auburn filled, particularly on the offensive line and defensive line, in the secondary and at quarterback, where the Tigers added Gatorade National Player of the Year Kiehl Frazier.
“As we close out this day and move forward to the next year,” Chizik said, “we feel like we scratched all the right itches.”
Even without Kouandjio, Auburn signed four offensive linemen, including Rivals’ No. 1 center (Reese Dismukes of Spanish Fort, Ala.), No. 2 guard (Greg Robinson of Thibodaux, La.) and No. 3 tackle (Christian Westerman of Chandler, Ariz.).
For a team that lost four senior starting offensive linemen to graduation, finding players who can step in and compete right away was a priority.
Dismukes and guard Thomas O’Reilly of Marietta, Ga., enrolled early to get a head start by going through spring drills.
“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.”
That also applies to the defensive line, where Auburn lost Lombardi Award-winning tackle Nick Fairley to the NFL Draft, in addition to seniors Antoine Carter, Zach Clayton, Mike Blanc and Michael Goggans.
The Tigers signed five defensive linemen, capped by the afternoon commitment of Columbus’ Gabe Wright.
Auburn also signed five defensive backs, getting signing day commitments two four-star recruits -- cornerback Jermaine Whitehead of Greenwood, Miss., and safety Erique Florence of Valley, Ala. Florence thought about Southern California up until the end.
“I couldn’t pick something I liked over something I loved,” he said.
For a team that lost 22 seniors and three juniors who left early for the NFL draft, landing another solid class was essential for the program’s well-being going forward.
“We’re just happy for the Auburn football family today because we really believe that this is another brick in the foundation of what we’re trying to build,” Chizik said.
“We’re still not there yet, we are definitely not there, we have not arrived by any stretch of the imagination, but we do feel like this is going to put us in the right direction of where we would like this program to head as we move down the road.”