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NATIONAL SIGNING DAY -- AUBURN: Malzahn’s first class filled with promise for new-look Tigers

First-year coach Gus Malzahn feels proud of the Tigers' 2013 recruiting class.

First-year coach Gus Malzahn feels proud of the Tigers' 2013 recruiting class.

When Gene Chizik was fired, Auburn lost nine committed recruits, including Reuben Foster and Dee Liner to archrival Alabama.

New coach Gus Malzahn and his staff scrambled and delivered a 23-member recruiting class that’s ranked as high as 10th nationally. The class does include six junior-college players.

“We had some needs that we had to address,” Malzahn said. “This will not be the norm. I am not saying we will not recruit junior colleges every year, but I felt like we had to address some needs, and we had to have some players that we feel like are physically ready to play next year, so that was the plan.”

The class features a trio of five-star defensive linemen, led by Carl Lawson, and four-star quarterback Jeremy Johnson, whom Malzahn labeled the “centerpiece” on the offensive side.

Quarterback recruits Jason Smith and Nick Marshall also will be given a chance to compete with returners Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier.

“We’re going to give all three of those guys a shot at quarterback,” Malzahn said. “They’re all very talented at that position. As y’all have seen in the past, the dual-type threat guys that can do a lot of different things keep plays alive and can be very successful with what we do.”

Auburn flipped defensive lineman Elijah Daniel from Ole Miss, and landed defensive lineman Montravius Adams in a battle with Georgia, Clemson and Alabama.

“With a new staff coming in, we had a lot of obstacles as far as trying to develop relationships and a lot of different things,” Malzahn said. “Any time you come in and you don’t retain anybody from the previous staff and you have a lot of commitments, there are a lot of things that go with that, and I’m extremely excited and pleased with our staff.”

TOP OF THE CLASS

DE Carl Lawson (Milton High, Alpharetta, Ga.) -- The 6-2, 253-pounder is rated the No. 2 overall prospect by ESPN.com and No. 4 by Rivals.com. He dominated high school football to the tune of 26.5 sacks and 36 tackles for loss.

WR Tony Stevens (Evans High, Orlando, Fla.) -- A four-star prospect, the 6-3, 175-pounder flipped from Texas A&M after his official visit to Auburn. Stevens is a natural who has surprising speed for his size and can get deep. He should play right away, as the Tigers are desperately thin at receiver.

QB Nick Marshall (Wilcox County High, Rochelle, Ga.) -- The 6-3, 205-pounder shined at Garden City (Kan.) Community College in 2012 after being dismissed by Georgia for a violation of team rules. He threw for 3,142 yards and 18 touchdowns with 20 interceptions, and ran for 1,095 yards and 19 scores. He’s a four-star prospect who excels in the no-huddle offense.


TEAM REPORT:

--Tim Horton, who spent the previous six seasons as Arkansas’ running backs coach and the past five as the Razorbacks’ recruiting coordinator, joined Auburn as tight ends coach. Horton is a 23-year coaching veteran and one of the nation’s top recruiters.

--Rivals.com rated Auburn’s class No. 10 nationally, which is remarkable considering the late start by new coach Gus Malzahn and his staff. The 23-member class includes three five-star defensive linemen and features end Carl Lawson, rated the top DE in the country.

--Four-star QB recruit Jeremy Johnson might also play basketball at Auburn. “I kind of left that up to him, but he is going to concentrate on football, and that will be his first priority,” Malzahn said.

SPRING SNAPSHOT

Practice priorities: The Tigers will be learning entirely new schemes under Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. The quarterback competition will be fascinating to watch, with Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier battling three elite recruits.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “They’re going to have a chance to play immediately. The three guys we have we feel like are three of the best in the entire country.” -- Coach Gus Malzahn on Auburn’s trio of 5-star defensive linemen: Carl Lawson, Elijah Daniel and Montravius Adams.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL:

KEY LOSSES: DE Corey Lemonier, RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, DB T’Sharvan Bell, LB Daren Bates

PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2013:

--QB Jonathan Wallace started the last four games of 2012 and showed plenty of promise, completing 57.5 percent of his throws with four TDs and four INTs. But he’ll have to fend off challenges from Kiehl Frazier and three impressive QB recruits.

--RB Tre Mason is one of two returning tailbacks, along with Corey Grant. The sophomore ran for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. He ran for 82 yards in the season finale against Alabama.

--SS Jermaine Whitehead ranked third on the team with 86 tackles and is the leading returning tackler. He also had four tackles for loss and five pass breakups. The 5-11, 202-pound junior will be counted on to lead a very young defense.

PLAYER NOTES

--OL Shon Coleman received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. He did not play in 2011 or 2012 while battling leukemia. “This is great news for Shon, who has been through a lot medically during the last few years,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “He has been courageous in his fight and we look forward to him returning to the football field.” The 6-6, 302-pounder was diagnosed in the spring of 2010 and underwent treatment at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

--Junior QB Clint Moseley has left the team but remains in school and will finish his degree, according to coach Gus Malzahn. He played in four games in 2012, throwing one touchdown pass and three interception.

Tradition of Auburn’s Toomer’s Oaks about to end

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s historic Toomer’s Corner Oaks will be “rolled” one more time this spring before they are removed.

The trees have been part of a school tradition since the 1950s. After wins, fans roll toilet paper around the oaks. The university announced recently that the tradition of “rolling” will occur a last time after the Tigers’ spring game April 20.

It is not known when the poisoned trees will be taken down.

“The Oaks at Toomer’s Corner have been a part of Auburn tradition for generations,” Debbie Shaw, Auburn University vice president for alumni affairs and executive director of the Auburn Alumni Association, said in a statement. “Their removal will in no way diminish the Auburn Spirit, which has grown even stronger during these past two years.”

Lifelong Alabama fan Harvey Updyke was charged with poisoning the trees during Auburn’s national championship season in 2010. His trial has been delayed several times. His charges include criminal mischief and desecrating a venerable object. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. The next trial date is April 8.