A few hours into Auburn’s 2019 National Signing Day, Gus Malzahn’s early exuberance seemed dead wrong.
Auburn entered the day confident it would land most of its uncommitted signee targets, let alone its committed ones.
Malzahn was so confident that he posted a GIF on his Twitter account of himself cheering during a game with the caption, “It’s going to be a great day!”
But 30 minutes after the Tigers missed out on three-star defensive tackle LeDarrius Cox, who was committed to Tennessee and flipped to Ole Miss instead of Auburn, the collective heart of the Auburn faithful was ripped out.
George Pickens was Bulldog-bound.
Pickens, a five-star wide receiver and No. 1 overall prospect in Alabama, had been committed to Auburn since June 2017. But since his commitment, the Hoover product had been flirty with other programs, taking visits across the country.
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The narrative evolved from month-to-month. Around Christmas, speculations were that LSU had become the primary threat to Malzahn’s Tigers. Recently, it had been Tennessee. Georgia was thought to be on the outside looking in.
Still, no matter how often Pickens visited elsewhere, Auburn assumed Pickens’ relationship with incoming freshman quarterback Bo Nix, along with the fact that Malzahn was one of the first to offer Pickens when he was a three-star, would keep Auburn in front.
Then the five-star donned the red and black cap.
“I told Gus Malzahn I made a different decision,” Pickens told WBRC FOX6 News in Birmingham. “He was down, but it’s a decision I had to make”
Auburn fans and players were equally upset. Rising sophomore Anthony Schwartz, who would have played alongside Pickens, had the most cryptic message, tweeting, “Just know we know.”
The Tigers quickly recovered, however, landing highly coveted Mississippi defender Charles Moore.
Moore, a former Miss State commit, is the No. 4 prospect in the state. After his decommitment from the Bulldogs, Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner made a massive push for Moore, who projects as a defensive end.
“If I was to go to LSU, me being the person that I am, I probably could’ve got in trouble or something could’ve came up,” Moore told The Clarion-Ledger. “Things just could have happened.
“When I woke up, I knew. When I went to bed, I asked God, ‘Place it upon my heart where I should go.’ Then when I woke up this morning, there was no stress. It wasn’t Auburn or LSU or Mississippi State. It was all Auburn.”
The Moore signing was the day’s biggest for the defense, but a massive offensive target remained — four-star running back Mark-Antony Richards.
The Wellington, Florida, product is rated as the No. 4 athlete in the country and No. 11 prospect in the nation.
At his high school signing day event, Richards chose the Tigers over Miami, Penn State, Florida and Georgia. Malzahn landed the elite running back he so desperately coveted.
Instead of putting on an Auburn hat, Richards’ little sister jumped into his lap wearing an Auburn cheerleader outfit.
An hour later, Malzahn shored up another area of need on offense when he signed three-star offensive guard Kamaar Bell (Colquitt, Ga.).
With the Tigers likely set to start five seniors on the offensive line next season, the pickup was paramount to Auburn’s future.
However, Auburn batted only .500 on its offensive line targets at four-star offensive lineman Ira Henry chose FSU over Auburn.
Bell was an elite high school guard, but Auburn projects him at center, he told reporters last month.
“That’s fine with me,” Bell said of playing center. “I can get down and get it done.”
Auburn went to its defensive area of need for the final signing with three-star linebacker Octavius Brothers (Brevard, Fla.). The Tigers also offically signed Kameron Brown, younger brother of Derrick Brown, early in the day.
Gus Malzahn will speak with the media at 3:30 p.m. CST. Head to @PlainsmanSports on Twitter for updates.
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