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Big local presence at Auburn

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and his assistants have spent plenty of time in Troup County over the past few years, attending games and visiting schools and homes, and that effort has paid big-time dividends.

When the 2020 season gets under way, Auburn will have four players from Troup County schools on its roster.

One of those players, former Callaway Cavalier Keiondre Jones, is in the midst of his redshirt freshman at Auburn.

Three other local players, Callaway’s Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby and Tate Johnson, and Troup High’s Kobe Hudson, will be freshmen on next year’s Auburn team.

Bigsby, Johnson and Hudson all signed their letters of intent on Wednesday, which was the first day of the three-day NCAA early-signing period.

One of the players Malzahn has spent a great deal of time with is Hudson, an all-state wide receiver and quarterback at Troup.

Malzahn has been recruiting Hudson since he was in the eighth grade, and the two have formed a close bond.

“For me, I wanted to have a great relationship with the head coach,” Hudson said on Wednesday. “Me and Gus Malzahn, we built a great relationship. He’s like another father to me.”

Tanner Glisson, Troup’s head coach, said Malzahn didn’t leave it up to any of his assistant coaches to recruit Hudson.

“Gus Malzahn, he recruited Kobe personally, and he made it known from the very beginning that he was going to recruit Kobe personally,” Glisson said. “When a head coach does that it’s real important, and I know it was to the family.”

Malzahn, speaking to reporters about Wednesday’s signees, said “I’ve been recruiting (Hudson) since eighth grade.”

“I really think he’s got a chance to be special,” Malzahn added. “He plays quarterback, which he could also get some snaps at from time to time. He’s been committed to us a long time.”

Malzahn gives Hudson credit for helping solidify the recruiting class.

“Really, I think he’s the guy that really kept this class together through some of the ups and downs that goes with it,” Malzahn said. “He’s been very loyal to us. I’m very excited about Kobe. I really feel like he’s going to be an outstanding player for us.”

Hudson is one of the gems of Auburn’s 2020 recruiting class, as is Bigsby, who a few weeks ago was elevated to five-star status by 247Sports.

Bigsby said he “chose Auburn because it feels like home. It reminds me so much of my school here, the brotherhood.”

Bigsby, Malzahn said, is a “one-play drive type of guy. I mean from anywhere on the field, he can take it to the house. I think that’s very important. He has great balance, great instincts, can break tackles, which you have to break tackles in this league if you’re going to be a successful running back. And then, of course, watching him in seven-on-sevens when their teams come, he’s got great receiver skills, too. I think that’s really good, also.”

For the past two years, Troup and Callaway locked horns on the football field, and they each won once.

Now, Hudson and Bigsby will be teammates as they try to help Auburn achieve great things.

“Me and Tank have been playing each other going head-to-head,” Hudson said. “It’s finally good knowing we’ll be on the same team instead of going against each other.”

Bigsby and Hudson are both setting lofty goals for themselves, and for the Auburn program.

Bigsby, speaking to media members during his signing ceremony on Wednesday, said “I want to win a (national championship). I want to win a Heisman. I want to do a lot of stuff, start a new journey.”

Hudson, who committed to Auburn last year and never wavered in that decision, said “I’m looking forward to winning an SEC championship, winning a national championship.”

Hudson and Bigsby are both planning on enrolling early at Auburn, meaning they’ll be able to go through spring practice with their new teammates.

That’ll not only give them a head start on many of their fellow incoming freshmen, but they can also begin working with the other offensive players, including freshman quarterback Bo Nix.

“I’m just looking forward to getting better, getting a good relationship with Bo, a good relationship with my O-line, and a relationship with everybody on the team,” Hudson said.

Tate Johnson, who transferred to Callaway before the 2018 season and was an anchor on the offensive line the past two seasons, said Malzahn and all of the Auburn coaches foster a family atmosphere that players find appealing.

“Auburn during the recruiting process they had the most family feel out of all the schools,” Johnson said. “When you go to Auburn it feels really genuine. It feels the coaches care about you as a person more than a football player. That mixed with the fact that Auburn is a big SEC West program, it was a perfect fit for me.”

Johnson is looking forward to making the college journey with Bigsby, his friend and teammate.

“It feels great,” Johnson said. “I’ve developed a good relationship with him over these past two years I’ve been at Callaway. It feels great to be able to continue that in the college world. I feel like we’re both going to do great things.”

Johnson added that “I can’t wait to get in there and start grinding.”

Auburn signed 22 players on Wednesday, and that includes players from high schools as well as junior colleges.

Auburn will finalize its signing class on national signing day in February.

“This 2020 class is pretty special, so I’m excited to see what we can do at Auburn,” Johnson said. “I feel under the leadership of coach Malzahn we have a really bright future, and I know we can get a national championship there. That’s the ultimate goal, and that’s what I think we can accomplish.”

As for Wednesday’s group of signees, Malzahn said “overall what stands out to me, this is a high-character group. You look at their GPAs and you can tell that their futures are important to them even outside of football. And that’s what we’re looking for and that’s the way we’re building this thing.

“So,” he added, “I’m very excited about this class. And like I said, there could be a few more before it’s all said and done.”

Jones hasn’t played at Auburn this season, but he did dress for a number of games and was on the sidelines.

At some point, possibly next season, Jones will get his first playing time, and he said “it’s going to be special.”

“It’s one of those things that a lot of people don’t get to do in their lives, play in front of 87,000 people,” Jones said. “It’s going be nerve-wracking at first, but I think I’ll be level-headed.”