Commitment from 4-star QB Dematrius Davis continues Auburn’s 2021 recruiting surge
AUBURN — For a while, it seemed as though Auburn might have gotten off to a slow start recruiting its 2021 class.
At this time last week, it had only four players committed and hadn't added anyone new since April 16. LSU had nine, Florida had 12 and Tennessee had 21. The Tigers’ class ranked 50th nationally. Kentucky and Arkansas ranked 45th and 46th, respectively.
But it’s still early in the process. There was a quiet confidence around the program about the way recruiting was going. And after the events of this weekend, it’s easy to understand why.
On Friday, three-star Lehigh Acres, Florida, athlete Tarvarish Dawson and a pair of offensive tackles from Ocala, Fla. — four-star Caleb Johnson and three-star Garner Langlo — announced their verbal commitments in the span of just four hours. On Sunday, four-star Houston quarterback Dematrius Davis did the same to round out a standout weekend.
That last commitment is the headliner. Auburn needed a quarterback after four-star Alpharetta, Georgia, prospect Aaron McLaughlin decommitted following offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham’s departure (he pledged to NC State on Thursday). Davis, who recently decommitted from Virginia Tech, was at the top of new offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ wish list — he’s the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback and No. 130 overall player in the class.
Bo Nix is presumably locked in as the Tigers' starter for at least the next two seasons, but Davis could be a huge part of the plan to replace him in 2022 or 2023 along with three-star 2020 signee Chayil Garnett, assuming the former signs. His commitment is a sign of Morris' strong ties to Texas, a state where he was a high school head coach for 16 years and recruited heavily when he was the head coach at SMU in Dallas from 2015-17.
Davis, a dynamic athlete, passed for 5,743 yards, rushed for 1,592 yards and totaled 100 touchdowns over the past two seasons, during which North Shore High went 31-1 and won two Class 6A state championships. 247Sports’ player comparison for the 6-foot, 190-pound Davis is D’Eriq King, the former Houston standout who transferred to Miami in January.
"I wasn't really an Auburn fan (growing up), but I was a Cam Newton fan, so that kind of counts," Davis said during his commitment announcement. "Auburn is going get a player that is going to try to be a leader. Sometimes, I don't talk too much. But I for sure lead by example. ... I'm going to do my thing on the field, in the classroom, at home, all that. I'm going to be on my stuff."
Add in the other three commitments on Friday, and Auburn’s 2021 class moved up nearly 30 spots from No. 50 to No. 21 nationally in 247Sports’ team rankings in the span of just three days (only Georgia, LSU, Florida and Tennessee rank higher in the SEC). That quartet joins four-star Eight Mile defensive tackle Lee Hunter, four-star Hewitt-Trussville running back Armoni Goodwin, three-star Deerfield Beach, safety, Phillip O’Brien Jr., and three-star Seymour, Tennessee, offensive tackle J’Marion Gooch.
Dawson, who started the surge Friday morning, is an incredibly versatile athlete. He played cornerback, safety, wide receiver running back and even some quarterback during his junior season at Lehigh Senior High School, during which he intercepted three passes, broke up two more and forced a fumble on defense and rushed for 206 yards, caught 19 passes for 293 yards and totaled six touchdowns on offense,
He also ran a 10.58-second 100-meter dash in February before the coronavirus pandemic ended the track season.
“I’m happy to see him make a choice, it’s a great school, great tradition and I’m happy for him,” Lightning head coach James Chaney told the Fort Myers News-Press. “He can play either side of the ball at a very high level.”
Johnson and Langlo are teammates at Trinity High in Ocala and, like Gooch, are both listed at 6-foot-7. It seems like a clear emphasis from first-year offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. to add size and strength at tackle, which is maybe the position that Auburn has struggled to recruit the most during head coach Gus Malzahn’s tenure.
The Tigers brought in JUCO tackles Kilian Zierer and Brenden Coffey last year, but they haven’t signed an offensive tackle out of high school since Kameron Stutts in 2018; haven’t signed two in the same class since Calvin Ashley and Austin Troxell in 2017; and haven’t signed three or more since they inked seven (Avery Young, Jordan Diamond, Patrick Miller, Shane Callahan, Alex Kozan, Will Adams and Robert Leff) in 2012.
Auburn isn’t done recruiting that position, either — it is still in hot pursuit of five-star Fort Worth, Texas, tackle Tommy Brockermeyer and his brother, four-star center James Brockermeyer; five-star Cochran, Georgia, tackle Amarius Mims; four-star Cumming, Georgia, guard Dylan Fairchild; and four-star Houston guard Jaeden Roberts, who is Davis’ teammate at North Shore.
“I love Coach Bicknell and Coach Malzahn," Johnson told 247Sports. "I think we can make it great."
This is about the time when things normally start to heat up for the Tigers on the recruiting trail. They had five commits at this time last year. By the end of August, they were up to 15 in a class that finished seventh nationally.
That uptick usually coincides with Auburn hosting camps and recruiting events, such as its annual Big Cat Weekend in June. It’s unlikely that those take place this year — the NCAA recently extended the recruiting dead period through June 30, which means coaches can't host recruits on campus visits or have any in-person contact with them or their families. Everything is being done virtually through FaceTime.
“It’ll definitely change things if they can’t come on for camps, which it doesn’t look like they’re going to,” Malzahn said late last month. “I think there will be some discussion about Signing Day — you know, are they going to have an early one or not? I just think that all those questions are still out there once they decide when we can come back or when the recruits can actually come on campus. It’s going to be a little bit of a challenge not being able to evaluate at camps like you normally could.”
A four-commitment weekend is proof that Auburn can still have success on the recruiting trail despite all that, though. And there are more big names out there for Malzahn and his staff to go after — top targets Ga’Quincy McKinstry (a five-star cornerback from Pinson), Smael Mondon (a five-star linebacker from Dallas, Georgia), Jeremiah Williams (a four-star defensive end from Birmingham) and Marquis Robinson (a four-star defensive tackle out of Milton, Fla.), along with those offensive linemen listed above, are still uncommitted and at least considering the Tigers.