Auburn coach Gene Chizik met with his team Wednesday evening before the players beginning summer classes today.
Among the players in attendance were incoming players receiver DeAngelo Benton and defensive lineman Nick Fairley – both of whom were once considered questionable as academic qualifiers.
Chizik said Wednesday night before his meeting with the Columbus/Phenix City Auburn Club at the Green Island Country Club that he is excited to have the newcomers onboard.
“We’re excited about both of those guys,” Chizik said. “As a matter of fact, we just met today and everybody’s on board and ready to go. Tomorrow’s going to be really a new beginning.”
For Benton and Fairley, it is certainly a new beginning.
The rest of the team, though, has apparently adapted to the new coaching staff.
“As I told our football team today, ‘There’s nothing new for you now. You know us. You know our expectations. You know what we’re demanding,’” Chizik said. “There’s nothing new. We need to just get back to work. They’ve had 10 days off, so this will be a good time to start.”
BACK IN THE FOLD: When the Tigers open voluntary workouts this summer, tight end Gabe McKenzie will rejoin them.
McKenzie left the team this spring to deal with what Chizik vaguely termed “medical things.” All spring, Chizik said he remained optimistic McKenzie would rejoin the team.
Now it appears McKenzie has made his way back from his mysterious medical condition.
“Gabe’s going to be working out with us,” Chizik said. “There are some health issues and things, but I really feel like we’re on the right path in getting Gabe back to where he was. We’re excited about watching the progress of him and we’re going to continue to monitor that.”
McKenzie split time between tight end and defensive end last season as a junior. He caught three passes for 33 yards after switching back to offense late in the season. McKenzie also recorded 11 tackles, including 2.5 for loss. His biggest highlight of the season came against LSU when he returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown.
BILLINGS ADDRESSED: Chizik confirmed that receiver Montez Billings isn’t through with his academic issues quite yet despite the fact Billings graduated on May 9.
Auburn’s leading returning receiver sat out the entire spring with unspecified academic issues. Chizik said Wednesday that Auburn is still working to make sure he can return.
“We’re still working through some academic issues in that regard,” Chizik said. “We’re going to continue to do that until we get everything ironed out, but right now we’re continuing that process.”
Chizik told The Star on Monday that he was “very confident” the situation would get worked out.
Though he avoided specific terms, Chizik stood by the stance on Wednesday in Columbus.
“I always try to take things on a positive slant,” Chizik said. “I’m certainly optimistic about it. We just have to work through a couple of kinks here and there. With all things working I think we have a good shot of getting that done.”
PROWLING: Earlier this month, Auburn made regional and national headlines with its recruiting tactic nicknamed the “Tiger Prowl.”
Several assistant coaches used a limo – complete with car flags and Auburn magnets on the side – to visit Alabama high schools.
Chizik said Wednesday that he knew the idea would get attention, but was surprised by how much the Tigers received.
“Certainly it caught some wind and probably got out there a little bit farther than we thought it would, but the bottom line is I think it got the attention of the guys we’re trying to recruit and at the end of the day that’s what you want,” Chizik said.
More importantly, Chizik wanted to send a message that the state of Alabama – where Auburn has fallen behind the Crimson Tide in recent years in recruiting – is crucial to Auburn.
“That doesn’t mean that other states aren’t really important,” Chizik said. “As you know, Georgia is really important to us, as is Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi and I could go on and on. We had to draw the line somewhere.
“The importance of recruiting the state of Alabama, to both the coaches and the players, is paramount to us. That was the statement we were trying to make.”