November 20, 2013

Promise kept

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AUBURN | Gus Malzahn is a man of his word.

That's why defensive back Stephen Roberts of Opelika High, who committed to Alabama in April, changed his mind Wednesday and now plans to sign with Auburn in a few months. Malzahn assured Roberts during the summer that these Tigers, coming off a last-place finish in the Western Division, were going to challenge for first place this fall.

It sounded like a long shot, but Roberts said he'd be watching.

And he did. Roberts attended most Auburn home games this season in a search for first-hand clues about the revival. It played out in stunning fashion as the Tigers jumped from preseason afterthought to a 10-1 team one home win away from the Western Division crown.

That affected Roberts in profound ways.

Auburn reinvented itself and now has the look of a program headed for serial relevance, which is exactly what Roberts wanted in the first place.

He's been a winner at Opelika High. He wants to be a winner next season and beyond. Now Roberts feels like Auburn can offer him that opportunity, which made things easy when the time came to make some meaningful decisions about his next step.

Roberts is now an important part of the Tigers' Class of 2014 -- a four-star prospect wrestled away from Alabama, Florida State and Clemson at the peak of their national relevance.

It's a huge recruiting win.

Still, this won't be the last.

A significant group of recruits, regardless of position or intellectual level of geographic proximity, care deeply about playing for a program that wins.

[STORY: Roberts flips to Auburn]

Auburn had some difficulty last spring and summer effectively marketing itself to players with that approach. Recruiting heavyweights Rodney Garner, Dameyune Craig and Rhett Lashlee decided to let those players take their time and formulate their own opinions about where the Tigers were headed.

Now we know. So do the recruits.

The 10-win season will do wonders as Auburn locks down the final pieces of its next signing class. Players who were skeptical now aren't. Players who wondered if Malzahn has what it takes to win big in the Southeastern Conference now have answers.

The final push has begun. Roberts is on track to become the first prospect to flip from Alabama and sign with Auburn since Craig Sanders in 2009. Additional prospects, some at Alabama, are taking a very close look at the Tigers' renaissance and considering the same move Roberts just consummated.

It's indeed a new day at Auburn. Nobody's recruits are safe with these coaches in place, this system thriving and the Tigers' meteoric rise up the BCS standings now a national storyline.

It's a great time to recruit for the Auburn Tigers.

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