Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Auburn Tigers football recruiting notebook with Auburn recruiting beat writer Benjamin Wolk. It’s Monday, and we talk to Richard Jibunor about his upcoming decision and his relationship with Prince Tega Wanogho. Also, another 4-star LB has a weekend announcement. And finally, my latest take on the latest twists for 5-star quarterback Justin Fields.
Richard Jibunor close to announcement
AUBURN, Ala. — Richard Jibunor doesn’t stop smiling when he’s at Auburn. Truth be told, the 4-star defensive end target doesn’t stop smiling anywhere, but especially when he’s on the Plains.
He attended for a game over the weekend with the same contagious smile as always. Jibunor chopped it up with Rodney Garner’s family near the end zone prior to the game. He enjoyed his in-game experience with other recruits in the Class of 2018. On top of that, Jibunor stayed overnight with close friend Prince Tega Wanogho.
So how was the full experience Week 1?
“Awesome, man. Can’t wait,” Jibunor said.
Come again? Can’t wait for what?
The immediate reaction was to think he can’t wait to be an Auburn Tiger. After all, Jibunor has raved about the Tigers throughout his entire recruiting process. There have been times I’ve talked with him where he sounds as much like an Auburn commit as an Auburn target.
But he caught himself quickly.
“Can’t wait. Can’t wait to be back,” he corrected.
Jibunor spoke with Gus Malzahn, Kevin Steele and Rodney Garner at length during his visit. They made it known they want him in the class as soon as possible, even making a slight push for a day-of commitment.
Jibunor isn’t quite ready to do that yet. He still needs to see Tennessee-Georgia Tech on Monday night. He also wants to visit Florida for the Tennessee game in two week. Jibunor expects to have a decision after that.
And the reality is: Auburn is the team to beat.
“I think Auburn got a lead on me a long time ago,” he said.
Relationship with Prince Tega Wanogho
I’ve written about this plenty before, but I’ll add to it. Richard Jibunor’s connection to Auburn runs much deeper than the coaching staff. He has known starting left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho since their days in Nigeria.
In fact, when I asked Jibunor why he decided to come to the Auburn game for the opener, his answer had nothing to do with his own personal recruiting interests.
“I actually came to come watch Prince play. He was begging me to come watch him. I was waiting to see who the starters were, and I was going to come to Auburn,” Jibunor said. “I liked the environment, as usual. I always love being here.”
When Jibunor left the game Saturday, he was attached at the hip with Wanogho who had just finished up his first game as Auburn’s starting left tackle. As Jibunor was surrounded by reporters, Wanogho joked that he was going to leave Jibunor to fend for himself to get back to the dorms. Likewise, at halftime, Jibunor joked with me that he was looking for any reason possible to make fun of Wanogho in his first career start (he didn’t have much luck with that).
That’s the kind of relationship those guys have, which gives Auburn a clear upper-hand on everyone else.
“Right now, you see me having fun, speaking my Nigerian language. They’re like brothers to me, especially my main guy Prince,” Jibunor said.
Completely unrelated anecdote: Jibunor gave me an interesting little tidbit on the physical progression of Wanogho. This started because Jibunor was talking to me and one of his high school teammates about playing soccer with Wanogho this summer. I said that, even though Wanogho mentioned soccer to reporters last week, I can’t envision how someone that’s 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds can play soccer. Jibunor pointed out that, when he first got to know Wanogho, he was just a tall, skinny kid who weighed about 190 pounds. It’s amazing to see how far that guy’s physical attribute have developed.
Zakoby McClain decision upcoming
The decision for a key Auburn target will finally be announced this upcoming Saturday.
Zakoby McClain, a 4-star linebacker from Valdosta, Ga., will make a decision between Auburn, LSU, West Virginia and Tennessee. At one point, I thought McClain was a sure thing to land at Auburn. My Crystal Ball pick, until Sunday afternoon, even reflected that belief.
But I spoke with McClain and a source close to him on Sunday afternoon. McClain himself spoke highly of Auburn, specifically his closest coaching relationship — Travis Williams.
“Coach T-Will, man. I just love everything about him and being around him,” McClain told SEC Country.
West Virginia seems like it could be a surprise threat considering he visited there earlier this summer on a weekend he originally told Auburn coaches he’d be on the Plains. Tennessee has also received a couple visits.
But surprisingly, after talking with a source close to McClain, it might be the school he hasn’t visited that leads. McClain hasn’t visited LSU, he told me last night, but he plans to. A source close to him said that could be this weekend, which would conveniently match up with his decision timeline. Still, it does seem a little odd to plan a commitment to a place you’ve never visited.
With that said, there is a connection there. He has a family member he close to who plays at Tulane, so that would put McClain closer to him. Based on all of this, I’ve changed my Crystal Ball to LSU.
SEC Country LSU recruiting reporter Sam Spiegelman broke down the whole dynamic from my interview with McClain. Check it out here.
How Week 1 could affect Justin Fields
This seems to be the main topic of conversation on every Auburn, Georgia and Florida State recruiting site right now. Justin Fields is in the throws of a decision between those three schools, and things got way more interesting on Saturday.
Let’s break down what happened for each school Week 1.
Auburn: Jarrett Stidham has a solid performance. Nothing flashy. He showed signs of rust, but he showed an ability to shine in this Chip Lindsey offense. Auburn main recruiting pitch to Fields here is to come in, compete, likely sit behind Stidham for a year, then try to beat out Malik Willis for the starting job. Nothing from the Tigers’ recruiting strategy has changed after the opener.
Georgia: Jacob Eason was injured and will be out for at least another week, but likely longer. Jake Fromm came in and performed well. Fields will likely be paying seriously close attention to Georgia-Notre Dame on Saturday to see if Fromm performs well. There’s no doubt Fields has concerns about Fromm getting a leg up in the 2017 season. He expressed those doubts — in a bit of eerie foreshadowing — to our very own Jeff Sentell. My Crystal Ball pick sits with Georgia, but Fromm’s performance on Saturday against Notre Dame will likely matter to Fields.
Florida State: Deondre Francois was injured, as well. He will be out for the entire season. Brutal loss for the Seminoles, but it also means he’s guaranteed to come back in 2018. It could’ve happened anyways, but now it seems almost given Fields would have to wait at Florida State. Not that it’s a major issue for Fields, but something to think about. On top of that, Florida State is now expected play a true freshman in James Blackman. Much like the Fromm situation, it gives Fields another layer to think about.
Again, this is mostly speculation. Fields has shut off recruiting interviews for the time being, so I wouldn’t expect a ton of answers from his camp. But just based on the facts laid out above, Auburn might’ve picked up some major ground in the Fields sweepstakes on Saturday.
Miss a previous Auburn recruiting notebook? Find every daily recap of Auburn Tigers recruiting right here.
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