Arkansas State’s success in recent years is in no small part to the recruiting done by coach Gus Malzahn and his staff in 2012.
The Red Wolves have won four of the last five Sun Belt Conference championships including last year’s undefeated league run (8-0) with many of the players Malzahn signed during his one and only season at the school in key roles.
Remnants of the class will be on the field Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium when Arkansas St. visits Auburn for the third meeting between the programs.
Eight players Malzahn signed are fifth year seniors on the team and six of them are expected to start.
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“They're starting there for a reason,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said this week. “We felt like they'd be good players and it looks like they've had a pretty good career. Unfortunately, we have to play them.”
The former Arkansas St. offensive coordinator had a hand building the standout 2012 class featuring 27 recruits (22 from high school, five out of junior college). The class ranked No. 63 in the country in 247 Sports’ composite team rankings, a major achievement considering the Red Wolves rarely crack the top 100.
Sixteen of the signees were ranked three-stars or higher and it was considered the top recruiting class in the Sun Belt Conference by Rivals, Scout and 247 Sports.
Malzahn’s staff loaded up the offensive line with five signees, four of which — left tackle Jemar Clark, left guard Colton Jackson, center Devin Mondie and right guard Austin Moreton — are starters.
“It’s a brotherhood for sure on our offensive line,” Moreton said in an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer this week. “Three of us room together and Devin (Mondie) would be our fourth roommate if his actual brother wasn’t here. We worked hard to create that bond and we are better for it.”
The four linemen started alongside right tackle Joseph Bacchus last year and has 106 combined starts between them. Last year, the line helped Arkansas St. average more than 438 yards and 40 points a game.
“Part of the reason I came here was the guys they were bringing in,” Clark said. “I didn’t know how good we could be right away, but we matured together and proved ourselves.”
While Clark didn’t get to learn much about Malzahn’s offense as a redshirt freshman on the scout team, Moreton got a glimpse of the key concepts when Malzahn switched him from the defensive line to the offense late in the season before taking the job at Auburn.
“He knew what he wanted and he wanted a fast tempo,” Moreton said. “We still have that tempo offense. It’s kind of been instilled in us here.”
Moreton knows Arkansas St.’s offense will have its hands full against a “really good, really deep” Auburn defensive line, but don’t expect the Red Wolves to be intimated. They have played quite the out of conference schedule in recent years visiting USC, Tennessee and Miami.
Last year, Arkansas St. hosted Missouri and led 17-10 at the half.
“We know we are going to get the best from them,” Clark said of Auburn. “We respect them a lot.”
Regardless of the result on Saturday, Clark might have to seek Malzahn out to say thank you.
“Coach Malzahn brought all four of us together,” Clark said the fifth year seniors. “Those are guys that are going to be in my wedding some day.”
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will face these former players on Saturday when his team hosts Arkansas St.
- Jemar Clark OL
- Quanterio Heath LB
- Chris Humes DB
- Colton Jackson OL
- Warren Leapheart TE
- Devin Mondie OL
- Austin Moreton OL
- Darrius Rosser