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Michael Carvell

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn: Ex-UGA DB Nick Marshall is NFL prospect at QB

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Gus Malzahn (right) and QB Nick Marshall came within 13 seconds of winning a national title in their first year together (AP)

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn (right) and QB Nick Marshall came within 13 seconds of winning a national title in their first year together (AP)

Perhaps no out-of-state college recruited Georgia better than Auburn this year.

The SEC school, coming off an appearance in the BCS championship game, signed 24 players last month, including 10 from the state of Georgia.

“I think’s it’s a 1 and 1A type of deal,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn told the AJC on Monday. He was asked about the importance of recruiting Georgia after his home turf of Alabama.

“Georgia is very important to our success here. If you look back at the championship-type teams we’ve had at Auburn, we’ve had a lot of players from the state of Georgia. We’re going to continue to recruit that state very hard.”

There are many other reasons for Auburn’s success in Georgia, including location (the school campus is 30 minutes away from the state line, and a short 90-minute drive up I-85 to the fertile recruiting grounds of Atlanta) and dedicated resources (Malzhan said almost every one of his assistants are in charge of recruiting both parts of Alabama and Georgia). And, of course, Auburn was one of college football’s best stories last year with the one-year turnaround under Malzahn.

DT Dontavius Russell (247sports)

DT Dontavius Russell (247sports)

Auburn’s top 2014 signee out of Georgia was St. Pius high school defensive back Nick Ruffin, who was rated as the state’s No. 4 overall prospect.

The Tigers also got a big recruiting win by signing Carrollton High School defensive tackle Dontavius Russell, who flipped from UGA to Auburn. Russell’s uncle played on the same Auburn football team with current Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner, the former UGA recruiting coordinator.

“Dontavius had some family connections here, and they had some very good experiences when they were here,” Malzhan said. “Coach Garner had a very good relationship with him and his family, and he was a good fit for us.

Here’s the rest of Monday’s Q&A with Auburn assistant Gus Malzahn:

Your quarterback, Nick Marshall, played at UGA and is from Wilcox County High School. Your offensive coordinator said Marshall can play QB in the NFL, “without question.” Nobody knows QBs like you do. What do you think about Marshall as an NFL QB prospect? “There’s no doubt about that. What he did last season with not going through (the previous) spring, with only having two weeks under his belt before the season started with reps the first group – and he led us to 13 seconds within winning the whole thing. He’s off to a great start. I think there’s no doubt about that.”

I’d say Nick Marshall and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger of North Oconee High School are two of the strongest arms I’ve ever seen out of Georgia high schools. “Yeah, Nick has got a rifle. There’s no doubt about that.”

I think comparisons are unfair, but do you think Nick Marshall has a stronger arm than Cam Newton? “That’s hard to tell. That’s hard to say. The ball comes out of his hand very well.”

Former Milton High School defensive end Carl Lawson is the highest-rated recruit you’ve signed at Auburn in your two recruiting classes. He was rated No. 2 overall in the nation by ESPN. Based on only one season, has Lawson lived up to the hype so far? “Well, he is off to a good start. He did a lot for us as a true freshman. He helped us get to where we are. This spring will be very good for him, and he seems to be getting more comfortable. Yes, we have high expectations. He is an impact player. He showed that at time last year. He is just working on getting more consistent. But yes, he is an impact player.”

Auburn signed 10 kids out of Georgia this year, including Under Armour All-America defensive back Kalvaraz Bessent of Camden County High School. Bessent got into some off-the-field trouble after signing day but was cleared of all charges. You researched the situation for a month before deciding to allow him to join the team this summer. What made you stick by Kalvaraz? “Well, he will come in with the rest of our recruits, and he will be on probationary status.”

Another SEC school got a commitment from a QB still in middle school. What is your policy on offering kids at such a young age? How young is too young? “We don’t set the age or anything. I think you’ve got to be realistic with yourself or your program when you offer young guys, and do your homework the best you can.”

What is one NCAA rule you’d like to see changed or modified to make recruiting better for everybody? “There’s not one thing that really stands out to me. I’m OK with operating the way we are.”

Are you in favor of an early signing period? If so, how would you do it? “I think there’s positives to both. But I’m OK with how we are doing things now. I really don’t have an opinion on how to do an early signing period.”

Impressive debut at Auburn (AP)

Impressive debut at Auburn (AP)

How much negative recruiting do you think is out there? Because when a big-time job opens, whether it’s at Texas or the NFL, your name may get thrown out there automatically because of your success. Of course, you don’t have anything to do with that, but recruits hear that it and worry. “That’s kind of hard for me say. I think you just develop relationships with recruits. You just be honest with them. Most of them, if you’re in a relationship with them, they trust what you are saying.”

You’re relatively new to Twitter, but you’re really good. How do you think Twitter impacts recruiting? “I think the young kids today, that’s how they communicate. It’s different from when I grew up, but that’s where the world is at. And that’s where they communicate. I think the guys (colleges coaches) that aren’t on it are probably at a disadvantage.”

Do you take into account what prospective student-athletes tweet? Do you look at a kid’s Twitter account while doing your overall research? “I think when you are trying to recruit a kid, you investigate everything you can about that young man. You try to gather as much information as you can.”

What did you think about the negative backlash on Twitter directed at Rashaan Evans after he picked Alabama over Auburn? “I think that nobody should be going after young kids with anything negative.”

Twitter gives everybody a public platform to praise or complain. Do you read your Twitter “mentions” when people tweet at you? “No, not really.”

Are you on Instagram or thinking about it? “Uh, no.”

What’s your message to Georgia’s elite 2015 on why they ought to consider Auburn? “Auburn is a great place. It’s a place you win championships and get a great degree in a very healthy atmosphere.”

  • RELATED: Some good news for Auburn with QB commit Tyler Queen of North Cobb High School. Queen injured his right elbow while pitching for his high school baseball team, and there were fears that he might have to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss his senior season of football. Queen and his father drove to see Dr. James Andrews on Monday, and got a positive report. “No surgery,” his father said. “Tyler will be shut down 5-6 weeks for rehab so it has time to heal. He will start back easy throwing in May.”

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– By Michael Carvell, AJC’s Recruiting Blog

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