Auburn Football: 2011 Recruiting Class Proving to Be Tragically Overrated
"...and we wish him nothing but the best."
As soon as those eight words came from Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn in Tuesday's pre-spring press conference, safety Erique Florence was officially no longer a member of the Auburn football program.
Florence's departure not only dented the Auburn depth chart but it showed that, up to this point, the highly touted 2011 recruiting class that Florence was a part of has been tragically overrated.
Florence became the sixth member of the 2011 newcomers to jump ship from the Auburn football program in under two years.
Along with Florence, Thomas O'Reilly, Christian Westerman, Devaunte Sigler, Mike Blakely and Jonathan Rose all went from promising prospects to sign with the Tigers to not being involved with the program two years later.
Sigler was dismissed for violating team rules and his future in college football is uncertain.
Blakely, who was a class of 2010 prospect that signed with Florida but joined the Auburn football program in 2011, has not been reported to be going anywhere else.
Florence, a 4-star recruit and the nation's No. 3 safety, was part of a 2011 class that was ranked No. 7 by Rivals and was the second consecutive top 10 recruiting class hauled in by former head coach Gene Chizik.
As we all know, those highly ranked recruiting classes under Chizik did not translate to the field. Jerry Hinnen of CBS Sports may have phrased the phenomenon the best.
Chizik's recruiting classes were like hitting the lottery and investing everything in eToys.com stock.— Jerry Hinnen (@JerryHinnen) March 26, 2013
After a solid freshman campaign in 2011 in which he appeared in all 13 games, Florence saw limited action in 2012 under new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
Although the story of Florence has ended with Auburn, the contents are not unlike a lot of the other members of the 2011 class who remain.
The theme: high expectations that have not been close to being met.
For the most part, the members of the class of 2011 just completed its second season of college football. Only RB Tre Mason and center Reese Dismukes can claim to have been as advertised.
Mason rushed for 1,002 yards as Auburn's featured back in 2012 despite every defense stacking up against the run due to Auburn's ineffective passing attack.
Dismukes earned freshman All-American honors in 2011 and started 10 games in 2012.
As for the others, they have appeared to be overmatched against SEC competition up to this point in their careers. Overmatched not only against the top teams of the SEC, but even against teams that were supposed to be less talented, according to the recruiting rankings.
Some of the blame can be passed onto the former coaching staff for not developing players and some can be placed on nagging injuries, but ultimately, the burden of living up to recruiting hype falls on the shoulders of the individual players.
The good news for most members of this class is that there is still time to write a good ending to their collegiate careers at Auburn.
Among others, QB Kiehl Frazier, WRs Sammie Coates and Quan Bray, LB Kris Frost, TE C.J. Uzomah, S Jermaine Whitehead and DT Gabe Wright are all expected to play big roles in 2013.
Wright famously donned a backwards hat on national signing day in 2011 that read, "Nick Who?" in reference to the departure of Nick Fairley and his intentions to make Auburn fans forget about the Lombardi Award winner rather quickly.
Admittedly, Wright has not lived up to his or Auburn's standards on the field. "I just look back, I'm not a statistics guy, but I did little to none to help my team," Wright told Joel Erickson of al.com.
Wright insists that things will be different in 2013. "It's time to produce," he told Aaron Brenner of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.
Whitehead concurs. He senses a big year for himself and his fellow defenders.
“I've got a year under my belt, I'm feeling better, feeling more comfortable every day. It's a new day and things are starting to turn around for me,” Whitehead told Brandon Marcello of al.com.
For 2013 to be different than the terrible 3-9 2012 campaign, the members of the 2011 class must prove that the recruiting agencies and the countless other schools that offered them full scholarships were not wrong.
Up to this point, the class of 2011 as a whole has done nothing to warrant the praise it received just two years ago as one of the nation's best recruiting classes.
Time to write a different story. It's a "new day," after all.
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