College football recruiting is loaded with buzzwords.
Every program comes up with its own catchphrase to pitch the nation’s top high school football prospects. With the emergence of Twitter, schools create their own hashtags to accomplish something similar. Those deeply in tune with it might be familiar with Alabama and Georgia both utilizing — perhaps over-utilizing — the term “savages” in their 2017 recruiting classes.
Auburn doesn’t hide its own: Family.
Anytime recruits do interviews about the Tigers, the word family surfaces within one or two questions. Auburn feeds into it. The program’s recruiting ID badges for visiting prospects to wear around their necks reads “FAMILY” with the AU logo replacing the letter “A” in the phrase.
A few of Auburn’s 2018 commits chimed in regarding what it was about the so-called family that helped draw them in.
- Shaun Shivers: “It’s just the brotherhood.”
- Josh Marsh: “It means that I am connected to and surrounded by a group of people who value what I value, and we all want the same end goal.”
- Jamien Sherwood: “To me, it means more than family.”
- Jalil Irvin: “It means togetherness. Really, we work together and grind and love each brother.”
- Joey Gatewood: “It means a lot because Auburn has a home atmosphere with people always saying ‘War Eagle!’ wherever you go. Wherever you play football, you’ve gotta feel like that.”
- Kameron Stutts: “Every time I come up here, it’s just the right people, the right place.”
These guys make up a portion of Auburn’s 13 commits. Almost all of them mention the family aspect in some fashion when they commit. Take the most recent choice by 4-star running back Asa Martin, who said the off-field atmosphere played as much of a role as the on-field element.
This family environment helps attract a special type of player, something that helps the Tigers differentiate themselves from the in-state recruiting prowess of Alabama. It creates a tight-knit culture that, when remaining consistent in recruiting, sets up opportunities for blockbuster years — just like many expect the 2017 season to be.
It sounds great in theory, but it also could come off as a little contrived. Every school thinks it’s a family, right?
Well, according to the program’s newest assistant coach, Greg Brown — who has been everywhere in his football career — Auburn is one of the rare places where that feeling is authentic.
“That’s what I’ve noticed about Auburn. And everybody talks about it. Every program says family, family, family. I think this is the first place I’ve been where you say, ‘This actually is family,'” Brown said. “I do feel like Travis Williams and Rodney Garner on defense, we are a family. We are a brotherhood. We are tight. We feel that same way with our players.”
But Brown admits, he’s just now acclimating to the environment. Even though he feels it, he appreciates there are others on the staff who have lived it much longer than him — and in many different capacities.
Garner, Williams and Kodi Burns know it as a recruit, as a player and as an assistant coach.
But even with all that experience, it’s sometimes tough to put into words. It’s an emotional attachment.
“It’s very hard to describe. What I really tell kids is a lot of people talk about it, but you can get on campus and feel it. That’s one thing, me as a recruit, and I know you can ask Coach Garner as well and Coach Williams, is that it’s just different here,” said Burns, the wide receivers coach. “Auburn takes care of Auburn. I don’t care if you see somebody in the airport in a foreign country, it’s just a whole different family atmosphere. We talk about it like everyone else does, but I think you really feel it.”
But Burns provided a couple words of suggestion: Ask Garner and Williams because they truly embody what it means.
Garner, now the defensive line coach, played for the Tigers in the late 1980s under coach Pat Dye. Williams, the linebackers coach, was a part of the mid-2000 Auburn defenses that terrorized opposing offenses. And now they’re both two of the most well-respected position coaches in the country.
Yet they pride themselves on their roles as fathers, husbands and mentors to young people. Their ability to combine that with the “AU family” makes it come naturally.
“From our administration, to our head coach, to our position coaches, to our players, we make everyone feel welcome. And it’s genuine. It’s not a dog-and-pony show,” Williams said. “That’s why we always say, ‘Just get them on campus.’ We want to embrace everyone that comes through here. It’s just a different place because — and you hear it all the time — Auburn is different. But you have to be here and go and sit down with the coaches to know this is different.”
If any of the group is most qualified to give a well-rounded response to the phrase, it’s Garner.
He spent 15 years at one of Auburn’s biggest rivals, serving as Georgia’s defensive line coach. He recently admitted that his separation from the Bulldogs might’ve been the best thing that happened to his coaching career because, even though he didn’t think he’d leave Athens, it brought him back to the Plains where the sensation is unmatched.
“Having lived it, having had the opportunity to work at other institutions, I mean, Auburn’s a very, very unique place,” Garner said. “That’s why when kids and parents come on our campus, they always ask that same question, ‘Tell me, how is it different?’ Well you come on your visit, and then after the weekend, I want to ask you that question. You need to be able to tell me. I want them to be able to have that feeling that is so special to me. It’s sincere.”
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