Like anything else in life, being successful in college football recruiting requires a strategy.
Different programs tout different things on the recruiting trail and go after a different type of athlete to fit their program's needs.
For example, Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin tells prospects that they can come to Vanderbilt and create their own legacy instead of "renting" one at a program with a stronger history. He also has to recruit an athlete that can meet Vanderbilt's stringent academic standards for acceptance.
On the flip side, the recruiting game comes a little easier for programs like Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU. Being able to be the "state" school with a strong football history, top-notch facilities and a seemingly uncapped recruiting budget allows them to be able to pick and choose top prospects many times.
Former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said it best.
Derek Dooley on Alabama: "They draft; we recruit. And they get the first 25 picks in the draft."bit.ly/V3ADxz— Pete Roussel (@coachingsearch) October 16, 2012
Auburn has many of the same inherent advantages. It's in a great location with a fertile recruiting ground in Georgia, Alabama and Florida. It can boast a very strong football tradition and has all the resources a coach needs to be successful and build a championship-caliber program.
Still, in an age of recruiting deregulation, even the schools mentioned above need to have a recruiting strategy in place for one, two or even three classes away from now.
That's right, it's a safe bet that Auburn has targets in the 2016 recruiting class.
Auburn has one commitment for the 2014 recruiting. Kamryn Pettway, a 4-star RB from Prattville, Ala. flipped his commitment from Florida State to Auburn on Sunday, March 3.
For Auburn, the recruiting strategy for the class of 2014 will certainly be flexible and will change as national signing day (Wednesday, February 6, 2014) gets closer.
Regardless of the circumstances, three things will remain a constant in Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn's recruiting strategy for his first full recruiting class in 2014: winning it's share of battles in Mobile, Ala., recruiting the intangibles and reversing the recent trend of flips away from Auburn.
Win the Battle of Mobile, Ala.
There are always strategic locations on the battlefield when it comes to real combat. It's important to cut off supply lines and deter enemy movement on the real battlefield.
The recruiting battlefield is no different.
Mobile, Ala., is currently a main supply line for Alabama head coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. It is a talent-rich area that Saban and the Tide have had a lot of success in over the last few years.
Other than Lombardi Trophy-winner Nick Fairley, the Tigers have been on the outside looking in when it comes to recruiting the majority of the top prospects in Mobile.
Recently, Alabama can credit much of its success to prospects out of Mobile. Quarterback AJ McCarron, S Mark Barron, WR Julio Jones, RB T.J. Yeldon and OL D.J. Fluker all played a big part in leading Alabama to unprecedented heights.
Enter former Auburn QB, new WR coach and Mobile native, Dameyune Craig.
As an assistant at Florida State, Craig found some success in the area and is expected to be more successful as an assistant at an in-state school like Auburn.
Gerry Hamilton, a national analyst for 247Sports predicts that the gulf coast city will be a battleground to watch for some time between Auburn and Alabama.
For the foreseeable future, the region will become a battleground for some of the country’s top recruiters, including Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama assistant Lance Thompson and Auburn co-offensive coordinator Dameyune Craig.
Auburn also recently added a Mobile-area high school head coach when Malzahn hired Brent Dearmon from B.C. Rain to an off-field coaching position.
The first battle between Thompson and Craig is happening before our eyes, as LB Tre' Williams is in the crosshairs of both Auburn and Alabama. Auburn is thought to be leading for the 4-star out of St. Paul's Episcopal High School.
Recruit Size, Speed, Character and Winning Habits
Don't misunderstand, landing 4- and 5-stars looks great and makes for good topics to write about in drivel season. It's not all about stars, though.
What Auburn needs to focus on recruiting is not only great talents, but great talents with great size and speed. The importance of character and coming from a winning culture cannot be understated.
These are things that cannot be coached. They are also all important to rebuilding the Auburn football program.
There was a noticeable size difference last year between Auburn's football team and the top teams in the country. New strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell can make players stronger, but he can't make them taller or have a bigger frame.
Want to make a fan of a Big Ten team mad?
Talk about SEC speed and how the elite teams that have won the past seven BCS national championships were extremely fast on both sides of the ball.
Speed on both sides of the ball is an intangible trait of all championship teams. Plus, the one thing that can make Auburn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense even more lethal is if the players playing in the up-tempo offense are individually fast.
The last two years of Gene Chizik's tenure saw the Auburn football program develop a negative perception off of the field. Nothing highlights the off-field issues more than the four former players that committed armed robbery in the spring of 2011 and their testimony.
To be fair, the majority of Chizik's recruits are good, hard workers with their head on straight that have represented Auburn well. It is only the actions of a few that spoiled the hard work and dedication of the majority.
This Auburn coaching staff needs to do its due diligence in recruiting men of character and teaching them about good decisions once they arrive on campus to avoid more negative events.
Another important intangible Auburn needs to look for on the recruiting trail is seeking out prospects who come from a culture of winning. Winning is not an easy thing to do. Doing what it takes to win is a choice made on a daily basis.
A player coming in with a lot of trophies on his shelf for personal accolades is nice, but it is much easier to instill a winning attitude into a player who has known nothing but winning in his athletic career.
Keep Recruits Until the End
Objective No. 3 for Auburn in recruiting the class of 2014 is to curtail the recent trend of flips from Auburn to Alabama late in the recruiting cycle.
Top prospects change their mind on a regular basis about which school they want to continue their athletic career at. After all, they're 18-year-olds.
A sore subject among Auburn fans is how the recruitment of Cyrus Kouandjio, T.J. Yeldon, Brent Calloway and now, Reuben Foster played out.
All of these extremely talented players were Auburn commitments at one point that spurned Auburn late in the recruiting cycle only to go play their college ball in Tuscaloosa, Ala. People that like to put a tinfoil hat on will swear that its an evil scheme by Saban to damage momentum on the trail for Auburn.
The Auburn coaching staff nearly landed a consensus Top 10 class in the class of 2013 with only about two months on the job. So it's almost a certainty that Malzahn will land a Top 10 class on national signing day next February with a full year to recruit.
As Auburn fans know all too well, simply bringing in players with a bunch of stars next to their name does not guarantee wins on fall Saturdays in the SEC.
We will not be able to truly measure the level of success from the class of 2014 until four or five years from now. If Malzahn and the Auburn staff can implement a good strategy on the recruiting trail that includes these three things, then it will increase the chances of success on the field.
From the looks of things, success isn't far away.