Rodney Garner’s relationship wins over top recruit

Recruiting is all about the relationships.

DaVonte Lambert, who was rated as the nation’s No. 1 prospect at strong-side defensive end out of junior college, built his relationship with Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner several years ago.

As a senior at Burke County High School in 2012, Lambert was a non-qualifier academically but Garner – who then worked at UGA – still brought in Lambert on an official visit with the Bulldogs.

Former UGA assistant Rodney Garner is now Auburn's defensive line coach (AP)

Former UGA assistant Rodney Garner is now Auburn’s defensive line coach (AP)

The longstanding relationship was a major reason why Lambert flipped from Tennessee to Auburn on signing day this past December, and also turned down scholarship offers from UGA and Florida, among others.

“I’ve been knowing Coach Garner for a while, since he was at Georgia,” Lambert said. “Me and Coach Garner, we are real close. I’ve known him since I was in high school. We have a really good relationship.”

Lambert, who just finished up at Georgia Military junior college, is so tight with Garner that he admits that he would’ve signed with UGA if Garner was still coaching there.

“I can say yes,” Lambert said. “I can definitely say yes because Coach Garner – that’s my man right there.”

Here’s the rest of the Q&A with DaVonte Lambert:

Which school finished runner-up to Auburn? “Tennessee finished second.” What could Tennessee have done better? “They did everything right. It was just some things … there was some misunderstandings about some things that could’ve been fixed.” What was the misunderstanding about? “It was just some minor things. I can’t really name one of them.”

What was the most creative thing a college did to get your attention? “Auburn returning that field goal for six points to beat Alabama got my attention. I went to that game.” What about stuff colleges sent to you in the mail? “Tennessee used to send me big envelopes with pictures of me in the jersey with my number on it. That was really entertaining.”

What was the biggest recruiting rumor about you that wasn’t true? “There were a lot of rumors, but the most disrespectful one I can say is when Tennessee fans were calling me a ‘back-stabber.’ They were calling me that when I flipped over from Tennessee to Auburn. You know, they just called me names. I’m not a back-stabber and I’m not disrespectful. I was raised in a good home with my mother and my grandmother. So I just let it go through one ear and out the other.”

Former Burke County High School star DaVonte Lambert (247sports)

Former Burke County High School star DaVonte Lambert (247sports)

What was your biggest secret? “My decision to go with Auburn. I kind of knew that I was going to go Auburn after the Alabama-Auburn game but I just didn’t know how to tell anyone at the time. So I just waited until signing day.”

Funniest thing that Auburn’s Gus Malzhan said to you during the recruiting process? “Coach Malzhan, he always jokes. There are a lot of jokes he has said to me. I can’t really remember them.”

Funniest thing that Tennessee’s Butch Jones said to you? “They came up with a slogan when I visited Tennessee because I had this Nike shirt on. It was ‘Just do it.’ They kept on calling me ‘Just do it’ after I left, and Coach Jones would write that on my letters to me. That was kind of funny.”

How about UGA’s Mark Richt? Did he ever say anything that made you laugh? “No sir.”

At one point, you had listed UGA as leader. What happened there? “It got serious at a point but then it just went downhill. During my visit, it was serious. But after that, everything just went downhill. They were in touch with me, but I just knew that it wasn’t going to be the team for me. I just thought I had better options.”

What was the funniest thing that happened on your Auburn official visit? “At Auburn, Coach Garner always comes up with nicknames for the players that he’s coaching. And it’s just funny how all the names fit the person. I’m always wondering what nickname he is going to give me.”

Which coach was the hardest to turn down? “I can say Coach Garner. With his background and everything, it’s hard to say no to him.” But you said yes to him, right? “Yes, I said yes to him. I couldn’t tell Coach Garner no.” Which non-Auburn coach was hardest to turn down? “I can say Coach Jones. I called Coach Jones after I signed with Auburn but nobody answered. That was pretty hard situation because Coach Jones is a pretty laid-back coach. (Switching schools) was just part of recruiting. I don’t think there’s any hard feelings, or I hope there’s not.”

Which school disappointed you the most during the recruiting process? “I can say LSU. When I was in high school, LSU wanted me to go to this community college in Kansas. I didn’t go, and I never heard from LSU again.”

How much negative recruiting was out there? “There was a lot of that, especially from the fans. All the fans were basically putting down every other school, especially the Tennessee fans and the Florida fans. They were putting down each other’s schools really bad. There was a lot of trash talk.”

What was the reaction on Twitter when you flipped? “Oh, man. Tennessee fans were going absolutely crazy on me. But I don’t really pay attention to that kind of stuff. I don’t let things like that get to me because fans are going to be fans. They are crazy about their school, so they’re going to say what’s on their mind. I just took it in, and didn’t really worry about it. I just worry about football.”




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— By Michael Carvell, AJC’s Recruiting Blog

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