As I was driving to Mississippi a couple of weeks back, I heard a couple of guys on regional sports radio discussing the fact that Chizik’s recruiting efforts have, to this point, apparently emphasized the importance of finding an elite-level running back.
The context of the conversation was actually a discussion of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s new “spread” offense, and the hosts took the view that the apparent emphasis on high-caliber RB talent is evidence of the coach’s commitment to the run.
It’s a logical enough conclusion, but the fact that it needed to be said struck me as a little odd. Since the earliest days of his hiring, Malzahn has emphasized the importance that the running game plays in his offense, and Chizik himself has echoed the sentiment as well.
“You can categorize it however you want,” Chizik told ESPN recently. “But one of the first things out of Gus’s mouth each day is the need for physicality. People can categorize the spread however they want, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be ‘Tailback U’ with a great vertical passing game.”
The results remain to be seen on the field of course, but rest assured, this Auburn offense is going to utilize its running backs.
Class of 2010
In terms of RB recruiting, the staff has managed to attract what appears to be genuine interest from a number of the nation’s most highly-rated recruits. Since the beginning of the year, Auburn has hosted the top three in the nation, in Lache Seastrunk of Temple, Texas, Marcus Lattimore of Duncan, South Carolina, and Michael Dyer of Little Rock, Arkansas. Local prospect, and No. 11-rated running back, Corey Grant (Opelika High School) has also drawn considerable interest from the staff.
Each of the backs offers something unique, and many fans are hopeful they’ll be able to land more than one of the elite backs: Grant, for example, recently won the state of Alabama’s 100-meter dash championship with a time of 10.51. He also placed second in the 200-meter dash with a time of 21.60. (AHSAA Track Championships 2009)
Dyer will finish his high-school career as one of the state of Arkansas’s all-time greats — as a sophomore, he rushed for over 2,700 yards, earning EA Sports National Sophomore of the Year award and last year was named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year. (To see him in action, check out the video on his recruiting website.)
Seastrunk, the No. 1-rated running back in the nation according to Rivals.com, has already endeared himself to Auburn fans with his outgoing personality and infectious energy. (Fans may recall a certain “impromptu” gathering at Toomer’s Corner recently.)
A Good Start
In any case, as an Auburn fan, I’m pleased to simply see the interest being attracted by the nation’s top backs. It’s been my belief for awhile now that for some reason in recent years we weren’t able to fully leverage the school’s long and storied history of producing NFL-caliber running backs.
What appears to be the exception this year — i.e., having the nation’s top backs interested in the program — should, in my view, be the norm. Of course the top running backs in the country should be interested in playing at Auburn. And apparently this is a staff that shares that view.
Of course, there are no guarantees when it comes to recruiting, but the fact is that you’ve got to get the kids interested before they’ll make a long-term commitment to attend your school — and that’s exactly what this staff is trying to do.
Time will tell who decides to call Auburn home for the next few years, but with several of the top guys expected to make summer decisions, it should make for a very interesting next-few-months.
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