Pre-Signing Day Q&A with Justin Hokanson of Rivals


Justin Hokanson covers Auburn football and recruiting for Auburn’s Rivals affiliate, AuburnSports.com, and also co-hosts the “Eyes on Auburn” radio show with Rob Pate. Hoke was nice enough to answer a few questions last year, and he must have enjoyed it because he wanted to do it again. DISCLAIMER: some of the questions are the exact same as last year because they are still work and because I was lazy.

You should follow him on Twitter, and be sure to get all the latest recruiting updates on AuburnSports.com. We will be doing a post-Signing Day interview as well to discuss Auburn’s 2012 class. Note: I said that last year, and we never did. I promise we will this time.

1. Do you foresee any major surprises on National Signing Day?

I would imagine there will be a surprise, but no telling what it will be. It could be Auburn landing more than their fair share of Eddie Goldman, Ronald Darby, Leonard Williams, Avery Young, or it could be Auburn having to fall back on other prospects that may surprise people. I’d expect a surprise, but not sure which way the surprise will go right now.

2. What have other schools used against Auburn in their recruiting pitches this season?

The lack of coordinators, first and foremost. Auburn went an extended period of time without a defensive coordinator, and even longer without an offensive coordinator. Other schools used that against Auburn commitments and top targets, pitching the uncertainty of the direction of the defense or offense, and the fact that they wouldn’t have time to build a relationship with the coordinator that is hired. Despite Auburn’s five loss season, I don’t think that played much into things. Auburn lost five games in 2009 and landed a top five class.

3. What has been the biggest thing Auburn coaches have been able to sell this year?

Auburn has been able to sell 30 wins in three years, a Heisman Trophy, and a national championship. Every prospect that took an official visit was up close and personal with the Heisman Trophy and the crystal ball during their visit. That makes an impact. Auburn also sold the fact that they are still a young team, and there are opportunities for top notch prospects to make an impact this season. Along the same lines, the fact that Auburn played 17 true freshman this season proved they are willing to play freshmen if they are capable, that’s appealing to prospects.

4. What are Auburn’s two biggest needs and will they been filled?

Auburn’s biggest needs were offensive line and running back. Auburn graduated both senior tackles, and the rest of the line remains young and inexperienced. Prospects like Greg Robinson and Christian Westerman are capable and talented prospects, but they are unproven. Auburn was looking to add depth to the offensive line, and they will do that with at least four signees.

The other position I felt like was a big need for Auburn was running back. With the departure of Mike Dyer, Auburn was looking to sign two running backs in the class. Auburn had two committed, until T.J. Yeldon made the switch late in the process, that left the Tigers with Jovon Robinson. Auburn thought about adding another back, but appear to be very happy with Robinson. Returning is Onterio McCalebb (who is not a between the tackles runner), and then Tre Mason, Mike Blakely, and Corey Grant, none of which are proven backs in the SEC. Auburn needed at least one big, physical runner to bring into the fold, and they will get that with Robinson.

5. Has Auburn dodged any bullets by some recruits deciding to go elsewhere?

Michael Flint, an offensive lineman from Oxford, Ala. was Auburn’s first commit of the 2012 class last fall. Flint is the nephew of Auburn great Terry Henley, and had a host of early offers as a junior. But Flint slowed in his development, and Auburn and Flint parted ways in the spring. Most analysts weren’t high on Flint throughout his senior season and considering the prospects Auburn may end up with, the decision to part ways with Flint may have been beneficial.

6. Who has been your favorite guy to follow and why?

Cassanova McKinzy, Rivals250 linebacker from Woodlawn (Ala.). McKinzy now holds the title of Auburn’s earliest commit that will sign on signing day. McKinzy grew up an Auburn fan and has fought off numerous pressures from many places in order to stay firm in his pledge to Auburn. McKinzy hasn’t always had it easy growing up, it’s a case where McKinzy almost needs Auburn just as much as Auburn needs him. He’s a personable, fun, honest kid that wants to set a good example.

7. Who do you think is going to be the biggest surprise on the playing field that may not have a bunch of stars by his name?

Jonathan Jones, a corner from Carrollton, Ga., and Gimel President, a defensive end from Mt. Pleasant, S.C.. Both are three-star rated prospects by Rivals.com, but both have tremendous upside. Jones is a nationally known hurdler, taking first place in the 110m hurdles during a junior national track and field competition in the summer. Jones is a well built kid that reminds me of former Auburn Tiger and current Indianapolis Colts corner Jerraud Powers.

President had a monster senior season, notching 75 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, five sacks, four quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. President also earned Parade All-American honors. Not bad for a three-star.

8. Who’s one guy nationally that you think has a few too many stars by his name?

Honestly, I don’t think any of Auburn’s targets are overrated being four-star prospects. They all earned it on the field and in the camp circuit, and have the offers to back it up.

If I had to pick one guy that fans need to be patient with despite his four-star ranking, it would be Leeds (Ala.) four-star linebacker Javiere Mitchell. Mitchell has only played three years of football, starting only two. Mitchell played defensive line his last two years at Leeds, but will play outside linebacker at Auburn. Mitchell is a phenomenal athlete that ran track in addition to football, but Mitchell is still raw in terms of overall football knowledge and understanding how to play the linebacker position. Mitchell has a chance to be a great player, but it will take time.

9. Which commitment has done the best job recruiting for Auburn this year?Which coach?

Prospect wise, I’d say Zeke Pike. Pike pledged to Auburn early in the process, and has made it his mission to help Auburn recruit the best players in the nation. He’s built good relationships with Rivals100 receiver JaQuay Williams and other top Auburn targets, and has worked extremely hard to go out of his way to help talk Auburn up to potential prospects and commits.

Auburn’s best recruiter this season has been receivers coach Trooper Taylor. Taylor was the lead recruiter for Williams, as well as Rivals250 corner Joshua Holsey, Rivals250 tight end Ricky Parks, and was a big factor with Robinson, Pike, and McKinzy.

10. Lastly, how many stars would you give me in the field of blogling?

Four-stars. Plenty of talent and ability, but always room for improvement. Can’t build you up too much.

Thanks Hoke, you will give me a fifth star next year.