AUBURN, Ala. — Marquel Harrell's path to Auburn wasn't a direct one.
He originally committed to Ole Miss in February before backing off. He then pledged to the Tigers in April. He credits the presence of one of his former teammates at Creekside High School in Fairburn, Georgia, as a key factor in his decision.
"I was a freshman when Josh Holsey was a senior and he's just always talked about how Auburn is such a great place to be," said Harrell, a consensus three-star offensive lineman in the Class of 2015. "That rubbed off on me."
Until Harrell faxes in his letter-of-intent on signing day next February, however, he's still a target for other teams hoping to flip him. In that vein, rival fans will latch on to anything they see on a prospect's social media accounts, with Harrell learning that lesson firsthand earlier this week. In a tweet listing the five official visits he planned to take, Harrell had Tennessee listed first, which some took to mean the Volunteers were the new leaders for his signature.
According to Harrell, it was simply a case of misunderstanding.
"They weren't in any particular order, but I had Tennessee first, Auburn second, Florida State third and then Michigan State and Cal," he said. "I really didn't pay it any attention, because it wouldn't make any sense for me to be committed yet have a new leader. That just wouldn't make any sense at all. I don't see how I can have a 'new No. 1' if I'm committed to Auburn. "
Still, if his commitment to Auburn is unquestioned, some may wonder why he'd take the other official visits at all. Surprising as it may sound, Auburn's coaching staff has signed off on it.
"I've talked with (offensive line) Coach (J.B.) Grimes, (defensive line) Coach (Rodney) Garner, (head) Coach (Gus) Malzahn and (offensive coordinator) Coach (Rhett) Lashlee and they've all said I could take my official visits," Harrell said. "So I'm going to take it. I'm not going to waste them. If my coaches allow me to do it, then why not?"
Coupled together, the Ole Miss decommitment and the Twitter snafu could lead some to take to social media outlets and label Harrell as "indecisive" or a "flip-flopper." Some already have. None of it bothers Harrell.
To him, it comes with the territory.
"When I first met Coach Grimes — before I even had an offer — he told me that he could tell I was going to be a top recruit," Harrell said. "He then said, 'Be careful what you put on social media because the world is looking at you and seeing every step you take. There are going to be a lot of people coming after you. Be mindful. There are a lot of people out there that are rude and have no sense. You just can't pay them any attention because you know what's right and wrong in your heart.'"
That honesty impressed Harrell — as did Grimes' work with Greg Robinson last year.
"It makes me feel real good, because I know how hard Greg had to work as a freshman all the way up to his final year when he was just dominating people," he said of the No. 2 overall pick in last month's NFL draft. "I remember one time I was in the film room with Coach Grimes — we were just talking — and he showed me a board with the number of pancake blocks for each player. Greg Robinson had 135 of them in one season. I was just like, 'That's amazing.'"
Just don't ask Harrell what position he'll end up playing for the Tigers. Not even Grimes knew that.
"'You're a versatile player, so I really don't know what position you'll play,'" Harrell recalled the veteran coach saying. "'I could put you at guard and you can pull and we can trap. I can put you at center and you'll get to snap the ball off and deliver the first blow. Or I can put you at tackle because you can pass protect real well.' So really, he said I can play any position."
Where he'll play on the line mattered little to Harrell.
He prefers to focus on the bottom line.
"Last year I played left tackle and I've gotten used to playing tackle but this year I'll be moving to guard," he said. "But I don't really care about the position. I just want to help my team win."