Mike Marshall: Big Cat statement

It’s Big Cat Weekend, one of the more important events in Auburn’s recruiting year, maybe the most important.

Columnist Mike Marshall

About 20 high school prospects are scheduled to attend. All are recruiting priorities. Seven are Auburn commitments.

It will be a productive weekend. I’m sure of that.

This is perhaps the most talented recruiting staff in Auburn history. Name two better recruiters than Rodney Garner and Dameyune Craig. Name a recruiter who has gotten off to a better start than Craig, the new closer in Mobile.

Auburn has made a statement with its most recent commitments, linebacker Tre Williams of St. Paul’s and defensive end Justin Thornton of Vigor. I’m sure the recruiting is far from over on both prospects, but it’s a resounding statement for Auburn, nevertheless.

The statement: Auburn will continue to recruit on the highest level, going head-to-head and winning battles against the top programs in the Southeastern Conference, despite last season’s 3-9 record.

One thing to always remember about recruiting: The school with the most resources almost always recruits the best.

In recruiting, resources include recruiting budgets, facilities, tradition, image and exposure. Auburn can - and usually does - compete with any program in the country on each of those counts.

New head coach Gus Malzahn’s offensive style should be another recruiting advantage, something perhaps no other program in the country can match. The on-field results in the fall should be another indication of how much of an advantage Malzahn’s philosophy will be.

There are challenges, however. The new factor in recruiting - and one of the more important recruiting factors of all - is a program’s history of putting players in the National Football League.

Auburn’s recent record of putting players in the pros is lacking. The current staff, though, has nothing to do with that.

Over and over, we hear that recruiting is now “a business decision,’’ as if that’s something new. That’s just a buzzword created by people who wants to put more flash on an increasingly glamorous process.

Recruiting has always had a business aspect to it. With coaches’ jobs and the financial health of athletic departments at stake, the decisions of 18-year-olds are the eternal lifeblood of college football programs.

You cannot win without the players. That is as basic as the orange-and-blue “AU’’ decals on the sides of the Auburn helmets.

Somewhere in my attic is a quote from former Auburn President Ralph Draughon, comparing the recruiting battles between Auburn and Alabama to a power struggle between two factions during the Middle Ages.

It’s a great quote, eloquently expressing the fierceness of the rivalry even before Bear Bryant ever coached a game at Alabama. I think it’s from the summer of 1958, when Auburn was having its initial issues with the NCAA.

Do you think anything has changed in 55 years? If anything, the intensity has only risen since Auburn and Alabama have more than doubled the capacities of their stadiums, not to mention more than doubling their disdain for each other since then.

So is the competition for players is as heated as civil war during the days of the Holy Roman Empire, as Draughon said in 1958?

Maybe not.

Mike Marshall (no relation to Phillip), an Auburn graduate, was a journalist for 28 years and won more than 70 state and national awards. He won the Herby Kirby Award for the state’s top sports story three consecutive years. He also won two first-place awards from the Football Writers Association of America, a first-place award from the Associated Press Association for feature writing and the Associated Press Sweepstakes Award for the top newspaper story of any kind in Alabama. He was the Sportswriter of the Year in Alabama in 1994. He covered Auburn for The Montgomery Advertiser and covered Auburn and football recruiting for The Huntsville Times. He shares his thoughts in a column each Thursday.

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