One conversation, or even one sentence, can completely change the complexion of a recruiting process, and in the case of 5-star defensive end Carl Lawson, it appears as if things are starting to trend in a good direction in regards to his commitment to Auburn.
Last week, things weren't looking too good. Auburn had hired Gus Malzahn to be its new head coach, yet Lawson couldn't seem to find the time to talk to him. He was also worried about assistant coaches and talked about taking official visits. Auburn was on that list of visits as a "probably." Either way, it didn't seem like the Tigers were in good standing.
In a testament to how quickly the recruiting tide can change, though, Auburn seems to be making up on lost ground with the 5-star recruit. Justin Hokanson of AuburnSports.com is reporting that Auburn's new defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, had a visit with the Tigers' 5-star recruit. It was a visit that apparently went well, according to quotes from Lawson's father, per Hokanson's report:
"We had a great talk," Lawson Sr. said. "He's very knowledgeable and we talked X's and O's and scheme and what he wants to get accomplished. They talked strategy and they had a good time."
Johnson even went as far as to compare Lawson with one of his former players when he coached at South Carolina: superstar defensive end Jadeveon Clowney:
"Coach Johnson told Carl he was dynamic and what he's done before with that kind of ability," Lawson Sr. said. "Coach told Carl he reminded him of Clowney, he thought they were two of the best defensive ends he's seen in the last decade. He thinks Carl is a great pass rusher and those guys are rare."
Talk about a great pitch from Johnson. He couldn't have come up with a better talking point.
As it stands, Clowney is essentially the gold standard for dominant defensive ends in college football, and Johnson coached him when he was the defensive coordinator at South Carolina. Hokanson also brought up the fact that Johnson coached other stud ends like Melvin Ingram and Eric Norwood at South Carolina.
If Lawson wants to be the next Clowney, Ingram or Norwood, or even better, the first Carl Lawson, Auburn can provide him with a defensive coordinator who has experience coaching high-level defensive ends. Hokanson also reports that Malzahn visited Lawson on Friday, and he was "impressed" with the coach's history of putting up points.
That's a lot to take in, but things are certainly looking better for Auburn. The visit from Johnson plays a big role in that.
All that said, Lawson Sr. did say that the defensive line coach hire will be an important one in the decision-making process for the 5-star defensive end (via Hokanson), so it's not as if Auburn is out of the woods just yet.
Things are looking more optimistic, though. There's no doubt about that.
Finally, Lawson Sr. had this to say about Carl's thoughts on Auburn, according to Hokanson's report:
"Carl is tired and just wants to focus on Auburn, and a few others. We aren't entertaining all these other schools trying to get in the picture," Lawson Sr. said.
"Carl felt like the best overall fit was Auburn. The school, the town, the people, that's why he committed. When the coaching staff changed, there was other stuff he liked about Auburn."
Like I said, things are trending up for Auburn in regards to Lawson's commitment. For a while, it looked like it was about to fall apart, especially because of the lack of communication with Malzahn. Now that he has talked to both Malzahn and coach Johnson, Auburn has to be feeling much better.
Odds Carl Lawson remains commited to Auburn:
Lawson appears to be sold on more than just football at Auburn, and that could be a key factor in hanging onto his commitment. Johnson's visit obviously played a big role as well, and the more that he can pitch the recruit on the fact that he can help turn him into a star like Clowney, the better.
What's next in this process?
Auburn has definitely put itself back in a good place with Lawson, but now it comes down to that all-important defensive line coach hire. If it can bring in a reputable coach with a track record of success, perhaps that can be enough to seal the deal and keep the 5-star defensive end committed.
If not, well, we'll cross that bridge if we ever get there.
For now, though, Auburn has to be feeling much better about its chances of keeping Lawson's commitment.