Auburn has a rich history of outstanding running backs. Since Bo Jackson, nine more Auburn running backs have rushed for over 1,000 yards in a season, including Brent Fullwood, Stephen Davis, Carnell Williams (twice) and Ben Tate.
Auburn Fans are looking to current Tiger running backs Onterio McCalebb, Tre Mason, Corey Grant, Mike Blakely and Jovon Robinson, and also to recent commit Jordan Wilkins, hoping that at least one of them will join the club of Auburn’s 1,000-yard rushers.
Why does Auburn consistently attract talented running backs? Fans and journalists alike often propose Auburn’s tradition of high-profile, successful tailbacks as an answer to this question. To be sure, I imagine Bo Jackson’s Heisman Trophy has been shown to every running back recruit to have visited Auburn since 1985—and now there is a larger-than-life statue of Jackson in front of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
In this slideshow, however, we will listen to the Tigers’ newest tailbacks in an effort to discover why running back recruits love Auburn.
Auburn’s emphasis on the running game is, of course, closely related to the Tigers’ tradition of great backs. It is the continuation into the present of Auburn’s commitment to running the ball, however—and not the record-breakers of past decades—that gets the attention of current recruits.
Tre Mason, when announcing his decision to play for Auburn, said:
It’s very exciting. I know that Onterio McCalebb rushed for 800 [yards], Michael Dyer ran for 1100, and Cam Newton ran for 1500. Since he’s gone, they’re going to need someone else to rush for 1,000, so that’s what I’m hoping for. (via Matt Porter of The Palm Beach Post)
Running back recruits—and certainly high school coaches—see that Auburn has maintained its commitment to running the ball over the years and up to today. To reach his full potential, a running back must play for a team that is going to try to win by running the ball. Auburn always has, and that is the one of the reasons running back recruits love Auburn.
Auburn’s commitment to running the ball is also evident in the fact that the Tigers’ running backs coach, Curtis Luper, is also their recruiting coordinator.
Jordan Wilkins, a running back at St. Benedict’s in Cordova, TN and member of Auburn’s 2013 recruiting class, described the impact of the Auburn coaches on his decision:
I just love the relationship with the coaches at Auburn . . . I found my comfort zone with them. (via John Varlas of The Commercial Appeal)
Luper has only been at Auburn for three seasons, but recruits can already see the effectiveness of his coaching in the success of Ben Tate, who rushed for 1,362 yards and 10 touchdowns at Auburn in 2009. Recruits, of course, keep an eye on the NFL as well. Tate rushed for 942 yards with the Houston Texans in 2011.
Luper’s role in Auburn’s recruiting allows prospective Tiger running backs to establish a relationship with their future position coach before arriving on the Plains, and that relationship is another reason why running back recruits love Auburn.
The best athletes want to test their skills at the highest level of competition. Wilkins, who also had offers from outside the conference (Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue, Texas Tech), said:
It’s big-time playing in the SEC... (via Bryan Matthews of Auburn Undercover)
In 2011, the best defense against the run in the country (Alabama), and the top four defenses in total yards allowed (Alabama, LSU, Georgia and South Carolina), were all from the SEC. The top two defenses in points allowed per game played each other in the BCS Championship Game.
Auburn not only emphasizes the running game, but is committed to running the ball even against the best defenses in the country, and that is another reason why running back recruits love Auburn.
Rival fans enjoy poking fun at Auburn’s frequent self-designation as “family.” Fans of other programs may not get it, but running back recruits do. When Jovon Robinson committed to Auburn, he described his new home this way:
It's just a family atmosphere. (via John Varlas of The Commercial Appeal)
Jordan Wilkins pointed out other elements of the family dynamic.
Knowing I can come and talk to my coaches about anything is great, it's a big relationship thing we have going. (via Justin Hokanson of Auburn Sports)
They’re going to make it hard on you, which is good because you need somebody to push you. It was really a comfort thing and I feel like we’re going to do big things at Auburn. (via Josh Ward of Mr. SEC)
The Auburn family is not an easy thing to define, but running back recruits can see that it is for real, and that running backs of the past have played a special role in it. The opportunity to be a part of the Auburn family is a big reason running back recruits love Auburn.