AUBURN, Ala. — Darius Slayton says he disappointed a lot of people from his high school in February 2015. Almost three years later, he’ll try to do it again — this time as a key member of the Auburn football team.
Slayton, a sophomore receiver from Norcross, Ga., was once a 4-star commitment to Georgia. He pledged to play for the home state Bulldogs in December 2014, two months before national signing day.
But on the night before the day he was scheduled to sign for Georgia, Slayton flipped his commitment to Auburn. And the young receiver wasn’t prepared for the reaction he received.
“It’s like, dang, I didn’t realize. … I didn’t think that people would care, I really didn’t. I didn’t think people would care that much. You know, I’m going to flip, and there might be a couple of people. My high school had a lot of Georgia fans, so when I originally committed, a lot of people from my school specifically were really happy.
“So obviously, when I flipped, nobody like I guess treated me differently or anything, but they obviously were really disappointed. Anything in life, you make some people happy. You can’t make everybody happy, so that’s how it is.”
Slayton could make a lot of the 87,451 fans in Jordan-Hare Stadium happy Saturday if he could keep up his hot streak against the team that once held his commitment.
The 6-foot-2 Slayton has been Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham’s top vertical threat this season, averaging more than 30 yards per catch. He’ll enter the Georgia game this Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on CBS) on the heels of the two best games of his career — 146 yards against Arkansas and 99 yards against Texas A&M.
“He’s using his skill set to the best of his ability with his long speed that he has, I finally feel like we’re using that more,” junior receiver Ryan Davis said. “He’s finally pretty much healthy now, so you finally see, as the season has gone along … how he can take the top off and do all those certain things. His speed is very dangerous. We’re looking forward to using it more going forward.”
Slayton has had a reception of at least 40 yards in three of Auburn’s last five games. That threat will be huge for the Tigers against Georgia, which ranks No. 2 nationally in yards allowed per pass attempt (5.3) but has allowed a pair of 60-plus yard completions this season.
Two of Georgia’s last three opponents have thrown for at least 220 yards after the Bulldogs allowed just one team to hit that mark in their first six games of the season. It’s a tough but attackable matchup for the Tigers.
“I think as long as we continue to work and get open, and the O-line protects Jarrett, he’s always going to make good decisions,” Slayton said. “I feel like as long as everybody does their job, we’ll be fine.”
Slayton’s emergence over the last few games came after a slow start to the 2017 season. The sophomore receiver dealt with an injury that kept him from recording a reception in three straight games — Clemson, Mercer and Missouri. He came back with a bang against Mississippi State, catching a 49-yard pass.
“He got hurt the very first game, and it took probably a month before he could get his legs back underneath him to be close to 100 percent,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “What you’re seeing now is a guy that is healthy. We felt like he would be a in good spot to have good year coming into the year, but that hurt us when he got hurt that first game. He’s playing with a lot of confidence now, and I think Jarrett has a lot of confidence in him too.”
The vertical role was one Slayton was always primed to play, even though some schools recruited him as a defensive back out of high school.
“It was always the dream, for sure,” Slayton said. “Because in high school, it’s what I did a lot — I ran a lot of deep balls, caught a lot of deep balls. I was definitely hoping that one day, once I committed to Auburn, I definitely wanted to be a go-to guy for Auburn. Come here and make plays and help my team win.”
Slayton will have the home-field advantage behind him in Jordan-Hare Stadium this Saturday as the Tigers try to knock off CFP No. 1-ranked Georgia and stay alive in the championship picture.
He says that feeling on the Plains is what ultimately got him to flip from his home state Bulldogs, and he’s ready to prove he made the right choice for his career in his second chance against Georgia.
“Ultimately, I just came on a visit here and I felt like this place was home,” Slayton said. “I felt like Auburn felt more like home to me than Georgia did. At the end of the day to me, that was something that was important to me and the final straw in why I ended up coming to Auburn.
“[There] was definitely like angry people, especially the way I ended up flipping, but it was what it was. I was happy with my decision. I still am happy with my decision.”
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